Monday, December 22, 2014

Has it really been 2 months since my last post?  my oh my.. where has the time gone??? I promise I will be back after the first of the year... I have two weeks off from school and I plan on enjoying it.... Merry Christmas to you all.. and have a blessed New Year!!!


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What Some People Will Do For T.V.!!!

TV blessed TV

As you can imagine, my family likes to watch television. We do not go to the movies or even rent movies usually because we just don't have the spare change to. We did break down and go see Free Birds last November for our youngest sons birthday. It cost us $115 for 6 people!! We haven't been back since.

We have always preferred to watch T.V. together as a family, watching family/age appropriate shows. Somewhere in the time that we started our homestead we purchased a T.V. antennae, only to learn that they were switching everything to digital instead of analog. So we sucked it up and called to get one of the free digital boxes they were offering to everyone that had analog T.V. The box came and we were so excited, supposedly the boxes were going to help us get more channels than the regular analog channels we were getting. Down went the analog antenna and up went the expensive $100 digital antenna. From that day forward we never got another channel from the months of February to October. You got it, the new fancy digital antenna took away our television signal for the entire year, except when the trees were leafless! So for three months out of the year we get to watch television like everyone else.

As you can imagine, with 3 young children at home our movie selection consisted mostly of Disney movies, cartoons and what ever else they could find that would drive us crazy. My husband scrimped and saved and finally took the plunge to get satellite T.V. Our options of course were Dish Network or Direct T.V., We went to both companies, but were turned away because of where our home was located (it was to far out of the way for service vehicles to reach) and because our cabin was not connected to the grid, (Something about not being liable, if something happened) and because we did not have a land line for a telephone. After much cajoling, begging and pleading, John finally convinced the Dish Network people that we would be responsible for any damages to the equipment should any occur due to the fact that we were off the grid and we would install it ourselves.

Hallelujah, we were in business. We headed home with a brand new dish, still in the box and visions of who was going to get first dibs on the remote control. Of course nothing ever goes as planned and before we could get home a huge thunderstorm hit. Me, being the level headed logical person that I am, suggested we wait until the storm passed to set up our new system. But no, John was not going to live another day without proper television. For the next 4 hours we battled the weather, thunder, lighting, wind, rain.. pretty much everything a thunderstorm can throw at you and not be taken away by a tornado or beaned in the head with a hail ball. and then finally it happened......

Gryffyn came to the rescue... our very own caped crusader. With his big brothers hat, his football uniform and a towel on his head he suited up and helped John install the satellite. I do not recommend sending your 9 year old out in a thunderstorm simply to get television reception, but I have to admit his little hands sure came in handy that day!!

Before we knew it we were snuggled in next to the fire watching our favorite shows, or rather we were fighting over who's show we were going to watch first.

Coincidentally, living off the grid has no impact what so ever on the quality of satellite reception. It turns out that as long as the dish itself is grounded and documented by the company then you are good to go, and as for the telephone line, it is simply for purchasing pay-per-view movies and such. 

The biggest issue we had with satellite T.V. is the amount of time it takes for the receiver to load up. As I explained in an earlier post we turned our power off completely every night. When you cut your power off completely it stands to reason that when you turn it back on everything has to reboot, the satellite was no exception, and took the longest with a 10-15 minute average to reload, which is annoying but not life threatening :)

Friday, October 10, 2014

Flash-forward Friday........Happy Birthday to me!!

Good Morning!
Most of my blog is about telling you about our past, but today I am going to do something different, I am going to do a Flash-forward Friday

Today is my birthday, and I am super exited because my husband and I hardly ever get to have a date night (maybe once a year we get to go out without the kids). Boy do we have big plans for tonight! The kids are going to a Church lock-in, and John and I are going to dinner, Red Lobster dinner!!! I love Red Lobster but haven't been in almost 5 years!! 

No kids + fancy dinner = you know what????

  = Walking dead marathon, all night

Seriously though, I am excited to be able to share another birthday with my wonderful husband. Since it is my birthday I thought I would tell you a few things about myself in regards to homesteading.

1) I was raised in a very small town in Montana. My family didn't have much but my parents always made sure we had what we needed. Of those things we were very active in 4-H, community activities and in raising animals. I won't lie and say that I always enjoyed those times, because those times were hard and involved lots of chores I didn't like. But, I decided early on that I wanted to be a Veterinarian with an Equine specialty. I looked into colleges and started making plans. Things didn't work out the way I planned and I started a family instead.

2) I moved to TN with my mom when I was 19, a single mother with a 5 month old baby. I decided that Veterinary school wasn't feasible so I went to Surgical Technology School instead. I worked in my first career as a Surgical assistant for 10 years.

3) During this time I married and had more children. when my last child was born I became a stay-at-home mom and a homesteader. I did this for 7 years, until all the kids were well established in school.

4) I tried to get a job when Quincy started school, but the economy had declined and the field I was trained in had become saturated. So I decided that I would go back to school.. to be something... I didn't know what. My college counselor heard my dilemma and found the perfect second career for me. So in March of 2011 I started my journey towards a BA in Sustainable Enterprise Management with a Minor in Entrepreneurship. I hope to one day start my own green friendly, alternatively powered business. I also plan on getting my Master's degree in Environmental Education so that I can teach what I have learned from my experiences.

5) I am in my last year of College and only have 12 classes left, My husband inspired by my success at school decided that it was time for him to get his degree. He is now in his second year as a History major with the hopes of becoming a teacher.

 I love our life and homesteading, but there are some things that I miss, and would love to have.

1) Running water...It can be really annoying to have to haul water, it is especially annoying to have a load of dirty dishes that need washed and no water to wash them with.

2) Indoor plumbing... I hate snakes and there is nothing worse than having to follow a path in the deep dark of the night to relieve yourself. I have never seen one, but that fear is always there. And if you think hauling water is annoying than imagine how annoying it is to have to haul it, then put it on the stove and heat it, then carry it to the sink, then since we have no plumbing have to carry it back outside... On the plus side, dish water is really good for gardens.

3) The microwave... I really miss being able to quickly heat up a fast meal or bag of popcorn, but in reality it is probably a good thing.

Anyway, I guess that is enough about me. I promise to not go on about myself in my next post. Have a wonderful day and keep on homesteading :)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

In depth look at our generator system....

Hi guys, last week I showed you some pictures of our original power system. Today I want to go a little deeper into how the power system actually worked.

We started our adventure with the homemade generator and 3 regular car batteries. We hooked them up and ran through a tank of gas, only to learn that the batteries had not charged.. ugh... so we went back to the drawing board. We learned that a simple parallel circuit can be used to increase the current and amount of power.. Duh! So we followed the parallel wiring guide and tried again. Amazingly enough.. it worked..... for 1 week!
We learned really quick that regular car batteries are not meant to be recharged as often as we needed them to be charged. What is the difference you ask?
Well the difference is this:
Regular car batteries are designed to provide a large amount of energy over a short period of time. A Marine or Deep cycle battery is designed to provide a steady amount of current over a long period of time.....
Lets just say, we would have saved a lot of money if we had learned that to start with!
So we discarded the regular batteries and replaced them with 3 deep cycle batteries, and the games began again. This time we were a little more prepared. We had our power system, our batteries and a diagram that looked similar to the one below.

Notice that a battery bank can be set up in two ways.. Series or parallel. 

What is the difference?

Series battery banks adds voltage but keeps the same amp rating.
Ex: If two 6-volt batteries are joined in a series they will now produce 12 volts but will only have a capacity of 10 Amps.

Parallel battery banks increase amp ratings while keeping the voltage the same.

Ex: If two 6-volt batteries are joined parallel to each other they will now produce the same 6-volts but will increase the amp rating to 20.

Eureka.. we had power... but not enough of it.. so over the next few months we added more batteries until we had 6. 6 was a good number and generated enough power for us to run our lights, computer and TV for about 5 hours a night.
Example of a battery bank (not a picture of our battery bank).
No power system is complete without a way to access the power being created. This is where an invertor comes into play. An invertor is connected to the battery bank and then a cord is plugged in to access the power.

This is the actual brand and wattage rating we started out with.

We also had an invertor that hooked up to our car battery.

In an emergency we would connected this smaller invertor to our running car long enough to get our stuff done. Not recommended for long periods of time because you must keep the car running or the battery will drain and you will have to walk 2 miles to find another one (true story). Plus it adds nasty emissions to the air and wastes gas.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Throwback Thursday.. His, Mine and ours.....

Josh, Jake, Gryffyn, Braydden and Quincy

Life back then wasn't easy, not only were we trying to build a house and develop a solution to our electric problem, we were also combining our two families into one...

Trust me when you go from being a family of 2 to a family of five, then six, then seven.... there is a huge learning curve. Our first two years of marriage had many changes and many, many challenges.

John's sons, Josh and Jake, were 18 and 16 when we got married. My son Gryffyn was 7. I don't know what made us think that all of them being boys would be so much easier than if they were girls... WRONG! The age difference was a huge factor in how well the boys got along. Don't get me wrong, they didn't fight, but there just wasn't the connection we were looking for. Our first year of marriage brought our fourth son Braydden, and a short 15 months after that we welcomed our only daughter Quincy. Like I said it wasn't easy, but we managed to bring all the kids together and get our house finished, with a power source. Whew!!

Gryffyn and Braydden

Braydden wasn't sure what to think of his new baby sister.

A rare photo of me, usually I am behind the camera.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Cleaning up....

 Cleaning up......

While we were finishing the inside of the cabin we were also cleaning up around the outside. With 18 acres of red brush, blackberry brambles and field stone, there was much to be done. John had the use of a family owned skidder which made it a little easier on our backs. Everything went well until our youngest; Quincy, decided that she would rather be on the skidder with daddy than in mommy's lap. It became necessary to stay away when the skidder was working or she would cry until daddy took her for a ride.

Daddy's Girl

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Finally moving in.....

After many months and a particularly cold winter we finally moved into our little cabin. I was so proud to put in the first light bulb and arrange the furniture in just the right way. The kids were just as excited to have a little more space to play outside.

Now that the cabin was done we were ready to move on to the problem of electricity. We went to the electric company and was told that without a membership we couldn't get an estimate as to how much it would cost to plug in to the grid, so we contacted a friend of ours that worked for the electric company and he did the honors for us.

Being as our nearest neighbor is two miles down the road or a mile as the crown flies, and we would have to get permission from the other land owners to put up posts on their land, it became apparent that we were going to have our hands full. At last he quit adding things together and handed over the little pink slip. The estimate came to a rough $13,000-$18,000. What?????

Not us, we decided... this is where we decided that living off the grid was for us, I mean can you really blame us?
So to ebay we went, $10 and a week later we had the plans in our hands to build our own power system.

John working on our power system
Our power system consisted of a small gas powered motor, a car alternator, a pulley, and a pulley belt. The whole contraption was belted down to a large piece of metal which was then bolted down to a platform. Here is how it worked: the alternator and motor were mounted on opposite ends of the metal, a pulley system was mounted to each piece and then the belt was placed on each side. when the motor ran it turned the pulley which turned the belt, the alternator generated power which was transferred to a battery pack through 12/10 electric wire (grounded). The battery pack consisted of 6 marine batteries, and a 1200 watt inverter. We had run the wires in our cabin just like a normal house, with the exception of an outside plug in for the power source. Using a specially made extension cord we connected the inverter to the main cabin plug in. 

We used this power source with only minor issues for 6 years. At which time the batteries decided that they had been charged one to many times and joined the others in battery heaven.

What we learned about this system:
1) Regular car batteries will NOT work. They are not designed for constant recharging.
2) Inverters do not carry the full amount of power that they say they are going to. (Be prepared to go without a microwave, coffee maker, or other fast drain items).
3) Regular light bulbs really do burn more electricity than the new energy efficient light bulbs.
4) When they tell you to unplug all appliances, they really mean it, because even if they are not running, just being plugged in will drain a battery pack in less time than it takes to sleep a full 8 hours. (If the beeping of the inverter doesn't wake you up, you are probably dead!!!).
5) Shelter from the rain is a MUST, or you will be playing cards in the dark.

***Note, from looking at the pictures, I have gotten some of my dates wrong, but all the information is correct :) 

Friday, September 26, 2014


Don't you just hate those days when you have done absolutely nothing and still feel exhausted??? 

I do, today is one of those days, but the kids are about to get off the bus so I thought I would take a few minutes while I am waiting.

I left off telling about how we got our little 280 sq. foot (14x20) cabin in the dry. We were able to saw every piece of wood that was used to build it, we got the tin at a discount and our windows free when a relative remodeled their home. 

What came next was completely unexpected and unfortunate.

 My husband was putting a new tin roof on a home, he had just one piece left to put on and it started raining. He got up there to put that last piece on and slipped, herniating 3 discs in his back. I will forever blame myself for this injury because it was me who encouraged him to finish so we could get paid.

The next 4 months were rounds of doctors visits, steroid injections and unfortunately no paydays. All progress on the cabin came to a halt as we waited for him to heal. Our prayers were answered when after four months the doctor released him to go to work.

He worked 1 week and then  started to have excruciating pain in his leg. Upstairs to the ER he went, to find that he had developed a popliteal clot (behind the knee joint) while down on his back. This led to more doctors visits, Lovenox shots and Warfarin. It also put him out of work permanently. 

We went 2 more months without a payday, living hand to mouth and relying on my mother-in-law to buy diapers for our two babies. Times were tough back then, but we survived and I was given the opportunity to take over my husbands job at the hospital. It meant leaving our un-weaned daughter with my husband during the evening hours and working third shift (11pm-7am). I lasted 6 months before I fell asleep at the wheel, nearly killing myself on a winding, curvy road.

By this time John was feeling better, but still couldn't move around much, it fell on me to finish the inside of the cabin. So with the help of my mother-in-law (God Bless Her), we got the insulation and sheet rock to finish the cabin before winter. Now I had never done anything like this before, being a newby it was rather surprising to me how much work and effort it took to hang sheet rock. The walls weren't so bad, but when it came to the ceiling we had to do some finagling. 

If you'll remember we have a loft that only reaches half-way across our cabin. I found 2, 16 foot long 1x12's and stacking them on top of each other, I stretched them across from the loft to the cabin wall, making a plank to walk on so I could hang the sheet rock on the ceiling. We cut each piece of sheet rock in half (4x4) to make them more manageable for my weakling arms, and pushed our ratty old couch underneath the walk plank. John laid on the couch and used a 2x4 to help steady the piece of sheet rock as I put it up. I held the sheet rock with one hand and the drill with the other, using my head to hold the sheet rock tight against the rafters, I hung each piece. It was hard, back-breaking work, and as you can imagine, it looks horrible. The drywall is too thick in places overlapping and uneven in others, and the mud, oh the mud..... Let's just say I will NOT be posting any pictures of the inside of our cabin. :)

I have done many sheet rock jobs with my husband since then, but my mudding skills have not improved ;)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Cabin progress.......

It has been a few days, but I haven't been idle. I have been searching for pictures to post. I found a few, not really the ones I wanted, but I hope they give you an idea of how the cabin was built.

So, we decided to build a small cabin to get us through the winter. We went to the back of our land and select cut a mixture of pine, oak and hickory trees to saw out the lumber. We took several days and concentrated on getting all the lumber we would need to build the cabin. John and I sat down and decided that 14 x 20 would be a good size cabin to start with. We got to work and had the lumber sawed in a week, we then went to work on the floor. Using 6 x 6 posts for the base and 2 x 6 oak floor joices the three of us (John, Gryffyn and me) had the sub-floor down in a week. We then enlisted our 2 older boys and our 2 nephews to help us put up the walls and the rafters.
Our Oldest son Josh, Above his head is the beginnings of the loft floor.
 It took another week to get the walls up, just because we had to wait on the boys to find time to assist us. I was super excited to finally see what the cabin was going to look like. We decided to put a half loft in the cabin to accommodate one of the children. The stairs would eventually be put in the corner behind Josh.
The front of the cabin, we chose to put a small porch and lap siding on it.
 The lap siding was a little difficult to figure out at first. We had to finagle the lumber on the saw mill to make sure we got an even angle on each pass of the blade, but we figured it out and soon became experts at cutting it. One thing to note is the Windows, I love having the big windows in the front of the house. All of the windows in the cabin were recycled from another house that was remodeled.
Our nephew Tyler, notice the different color tin. We got a great deal on "Rainbow Tin".
 Somewhere in this time frame we had taken the time to visit the local Mennonite community, where we found the "rainbow bin". The rainbow bin was where they put all the left over pieces of tin when they got a new batch in. They could not guarantee that the colors would match, but we were able to pick through and choose the ones we wanted. As you can see we didn't do too bad, but a few of the pieces are darker than the other. We got the tin for less than half the original price, and were stoked to get such a deal.
Left side view of the cabin, My husband is on the roof and our son Gryffyn is helping lift rafters.
 Due to lack of help and time constraints we had to work on certain parts of the house at different times, so it didn't go up in a traditional fashion.
John and Tyler, working hard :)
All of the wood that went into building the cabin came from our own land, including the lathing they are putting up here. My husband select cut the lumber so that the smaller trees would have time to grow, we even replanted some of the saplings that had popped up in odd places.
Gryffyn and Braydden hard at work.
Even the little ones found time to borrow daddy's tools every now and then. 
There is a l lot of junk in the yard, but this is a pretty good likeness of the finished product.
This last picture was taken many months after we finished the house. We actually got the house in the dry before Halloween, but it wasn't finished on the inside until much later, but that's another story.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

New Land.......

Before I continue.. I feel the need to backtrack a little and clarify something from my last post. We actually bought the land and started clearing it while I was pregnant with our daughter. After reading it, I realize that is sounded like we did all that after we had her. It will make more sense as I continue with the dialogue. Thanks :)


   Our new land was a mess. Having been clear-cut by overzealous loggers, we were left with tons of rotting stumps, unwanted logs and one very narrow, rutted road. My first visit to the spot where we decided we would build our house resulted in an hour of detangling briers from my hair and cockle burrs from my shoe laces and pant legs.
  Over the next several months we cleaned and stacked, burned and buried every branch and piece of debris we could. Eventually we were left with a fairly level, if rocky, piece of land big enough to build a house on. As we cleaned, I envisioned sitting on the wrap around porch of our little log house, listening to the frogs, crickets and turkeys as they called to one another. I was so excited to raise our kids in such a wonderful environment. 
    With the land cleared and my due date coming closer we turned to more practical thoughts: How were we going to get the money to build the house we wanted? Now remember, we were both working at the hospital at this time, working on the land on our days off. We discussed it and finally decided that with my husband being a jack of all trades, he would build the house himself on his days off (He worked 7 days on, 7 days off at this time), and I would continue to work until the house was finished.
We went to the drawing board and designed the house that I, I mean.. We .. wanted. and we got to work. We decided that we would use some of the bigger trees on our property to build the house out of, this meant that we would have to have a way to saw the logs into lumber... This resulted in our second major purchase: A home based band sawmill. The sawmill proved to be a very useful and profitable purchase, because as soon as people learned that we had the sawmill they started asking John to saw lumber for them as well. This was a good thing for the wallet, but a bad thing for my house..
    Our daughter was born in March, but by August we still hadn't gotten any further than the sub-floor on our house. The house became a side thought to John as he worked his week on and then sawed lumber for other people on his week off. He ended up having no time to saw for our own home.
Me being the not very patient person that I am.. gave him an ultimatum.. get my house done or I was going to buy a mobile home and move it in, because I was not going to live another winter in his mother's house. (Not very nice of me, I know.. but anyone that has ever had to live with multiple families in one home, will probably understand).
    John and I compromised, we decided to build a smaller cabin to live in, giving us more time to finish the big house. The cabin was meant to be lived in for one winter only and then used as my craft room. It took just a couple of weeks to saw the materials and a few more to construct the main frame. With the help of our sons and nephew we had our 14x20 cabin in the dry.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

From the Beginning.....

Good Morning everyone. I have decided that I am going to go back and start at the beginning. I think it will help you all understand some of the reasoning behind our decision to live off the grid. I would love to answer any questions and read any comments so please feel free to join in  :)

When my husband, John, and I got married in 2002 we combined our families to create one. Newly married we joined our three sons together to be one big happy family.... yeah right! We soon learned that a 16 and an 18 year old had absolutely nothing in common with a 7 year old. So we sat down and had a heart to heart. John and I decided that if we were going to have more children we would make it so that one of us was at home at all times. In doing so we felt that our children would have an easier time adjusting to a larger family. Of course we thought that we would have more time to make that adjustment.... Boy was I wrong!! We welcomed a fourth son in the same year we married and a short 15 months after that our fifth child and only daughter.

During those first two years we struggled with the adjustment of five children, back injury, blood clots, depression and anxiety and of course the idea that in order to stay home with our kids, one of us was going to have to give up our job at the hospital. As it turns out we both gave up our jobs, not because we wanted to, but because we felt the need to steer away from the stress it was putting on our family.

My husband began to do construction again and I became a stay-at-home mom. During these two years we moved several times, in and out of my mother-in-laws house, in and out of rentals. I was sick of all the moving and the drama, so we decided it was time to make the change we had always talked about.

We made our first major purchase as a married couple: 18 acres of land. We put a down payment on the piece of land that John had wanted since boyhood. To me it was nothing but rolling hills of red brush, blackberry brambles and rattle snakes, but to John it was perfect.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Hello Everyone !!

    My name is Oni Brewer and I am going to use this blog to chronicle my families life as off the grid homesteaders.  We are not fancy people and do not have lots of expensive equipment, but we have made a comfortable life living on the bare minimum. I tried to start the BlackBerry Holler Goat Farm Blog, but soon learned that it was a little different than I expected. I have decided to take a different approach with BlackBerry Holler Homestead and discuss all parts of our small homestead, not just the goats.
    Starting tomorrow I will start at the beginning and share parts of our lives that have never been shared before... don't worry.... nothing dirty :) ..... or at least not too dirty :) ! I will also be publishing a website at, discussing alternative energy and green living. Occasionally I will ask my husband to put in his two cents, as he is the one that does most of the physical work on the homestead.
   I look forward to sharing with you and hopefully learning together about how we can keep our plan clean and green.

Until tomorrow,