(Continued from Part 2.)
It was completely overcast by 06:30. Yes! I can fully test my solar panel output.
Freezer temps before the morning solar-panel electricity came on: 24°F. I can deal with that if it never gets any warmer during the test, and it didn’t. This on/off freezer method could potentially work year-round so let the SHTF when it wants. As the days get shorter and less solar power is available, seasonal temperatures also get cooler making it easier for the freezer to keep up in my unheated shop. This will be an interesting comparison test for the winter grid-down trial. I added a third column to my freezer temperature-recording sheet: ambient temperature.
The cottage cheese from the cabinet formerly known as the refrigerator was warm and separating from the whey but still edible, developing a chalky buttermilk flavor.
I finally had an idea how to more fully use my solar-panel inverter accessory instead of just an extension cord to the freezer. I’ll cover this more in the section on Electricity. This was the single-most important discovery during this grid-down test. Off-the-charts exciting and way cool.
I finally had time for the generator so I spent the whole day trying to get it running. I had all the necessary carburetor sprays like Gumout to get the job done. After the first fix, in my rush to get it everything back together to test it out, I forgot a step. You idiot! After multiple tries of fixing various things I couldn’t get the generator running. It’s very embarrassing to have to mention this in a SurvivalBlog article, making me grateful to have a pseudonym right now.
Add to the to-do list: even though I had enough for this 10-day trial, be sure to stock up on all the necessary spray solvents and cleaners as well as filters, pull cords, spark plugs, and most importantly, a backup carburetor.
I picked some of the Indian corn. I need to pick it all sooner, earworms eat more with each passing day. Tis is the only corn I’ve found that the raccoons and possums leave alone so this will be an important TEOTWAWKI food.
Everything this first week is overwhelming and would be easier with more people, each person having assigned tasks outlined in the Manual.
So far most days are 14 hours of work. I was in bed no later than 21:00. I’m on a new schedule to take advantage of the sunup hours. I got up between 04:30 – 05:00 so by the time I finish coffee, SurvivalBlog, and other reading, the sun was up.
I’m missing too many meals. I lost four lbs. and didn’t have much to spare to begin with. I need to pressure can some chili for next time, it makes a quick meal to heat up in the microwave saucepan. Add it to the Manual menu.
Things finally slowed down enough this afternoon by 14:30 that I was finally able to relax a little. I washed a load of laundry in the machine and hung it on the line. It can run at the same time as the freezer since it only uses 600w (5A.) This alone should convince some to get solar panels and the right inverter. Washing clothes by hand is very labor intensive and wastes a lot of water.
I felt like my grid-down preps test was basically over at this point.
I had originally wanted to do just a 7-day test but ideas kept coming into my head on morning seven which would be far better to test now while I have the momentum rather than waiting for the winter test. I decided to continue for a full ten days. Since I figured out how to fully utilize my solar panel accessory so late in the game, I needed to test that further, as well as some other items as well. So much for the test basically being over on the afternoon of Day Six!
The 100w solar panel was doing a great job of keeping my 131 amp-hour deep-cycle battery charged. The battery was just barely drawing down each day while running the plumbing and hot-water systems. It tested 13.0v+ each morning before sun up, helping to ensure a long life span.
Well, that was a big adventure, full of successes and one humongous failure. It was well worth it and really the only way to do a complete test of all my preps working together.
The test is over but I collected some normal freezer temperature data to compare with the off-grid data.
Grid-Down Test Results by Topic
Now to cover some of the more important things from the test by topic.
Menu – For the first few days I was too tired to think about dinner after hard 14-hour days. For my 10:30 smoothie, which was a disappointment without the frozen bananas, I was too busy with the test so generally just grabbed a chunk of warm cheese from the fridge. The texture is more enjoyable at room temperature.
The top food priority was to eat as much of the stuff from the refrigerator/freezer as soon as possible before it went bad. I had a small collapsible grille that claimed to cook a steak with only six sheets of newspaper so it was time to test that out. I was very dubious but it worked. I couldn’t even taste the soy ink.
I put the three bunches of celery from the fridge into a container of water and kept snacking on those with peanut butter. They didn’t spoil but started growing so the new growth and inner stalks were great in stir fry after the test was finished. I snacked a lot on raisins and peanuts and the 20 lbs. of bananas I had dried.
Comfort foods would be a huge plus in a SHTF event. I don’t think it’s possible to store too much coffee, hot chocolate, and mint flavoring. My best comfort food is mint mocha: a 50/50 cup of coffee and hot chocolate with mint flavoring added. Even with my suck-it-up-buttercup philosophy, comfort foods can go a long way after a hard day or when coming in from the cold. I drank a lot of coffee in the morning, more than my normal one cup, and mint mocha at the end of the day which I normally don’t drink this time of year.
I was very fortunate to have two cases of Mountain House freeze-dried Foods. I wish I had thought of it on Day One instead of Day Four. I can highly recommend the lasagna. Freeze-dried foods have come a long way and were quick and easy to prepare (just add boiling water) during that insane first week. I ate lasagna every night for the remainder of the trial and some days for lunch as well. This will be an excellent item to list in the first-week menu section of the Manual.
I kept lots of records and notes, 49 pages of written notes and 68 index cards. The index cards were scattered all over the homestead so I could grab one wherever I was before an idea escaped me.
For a TEOTWAWKI life, weather records would be really helpful. I have a few years of complete daily solar-panel output from 2018 so that can help me plan better for electrical usage and give me a rough idea of when to expect low-output days. That will allow me to better manage things like my woodstove blower so that it doesn’t draw down the storage batteries too much. It’s often in the low 50’s when I get up so a fire first thing in the morning is wonderful. On some days when necessary I can suck it up and wait until the sun is hitting the solar panels before lighting the stove. It sounds like a good excuse to drink more coffee while reading in my chair with a hoodie on.
Things like sunrise and sunset times, which we take for granted and have little use for today, would also be useful, as would precipitation records.
All of these records will have their sections in the Manual.
This is a very important topic which we all need to consider. For me, the only thing worthy of propane use after the SHTF fan is cooking. Everything else is a waste since they require so much propane compared to cooking. This is one more reason to take advantage of wood stoves and solar appliances like water heaters, room heaters, and cookers.
For baking, cobbler is another treat that will rank high on my post-SHTF lifestyle as it does now. It’s also a great psychological boost during the difficult adjustments to a new life. I make the best use of my green tomatoes by making and canning a green tomato-apple pie filling. With this canned filling, it takes only ten minutes to make a cobbler and get it into the oven. An excellent food but I hate to waste so much propane heating up a huge oven for baking, especially for small things like cornbread. To solve the problem since I have solar panels, I bought an electric countertop oven a few years back. They’ve come a long way since those toaster ovens I grew up with. I use mine to cook all my pies, cobblers, breads, rolls, pizza, the whole nine yards. With my solar panels, I try to use as much electricity as possible since I only use half of what I produce anyway. For me, this little oven is a good prep.
Until this preps test, it hadn’t occurred to me to check out other electric cooking items that could be useful. With solar panels, it’s senseless to waste propane things which solar-panel electricity can do. I already have a waffle iron, George Foreman grill, and rice cooker, but I’ll be investigating electric kettles, cooking plates, electric griddles, skillets, etc.
One of the side benefits to a solar-powered electric kettle is that it can be used to purify water for those whose TEOTWAWKI water system is inadequate and doesn’t provide clean water.
During my winter test with less hours of sunshine available for the solar panels, I’ll be experiment with timing hot-meal meal dishes to coincide with sunlight hours to take advantage of the solar panels, and colder meals during the dark hours to conserve propane. Baked items can be cooked when the sun is shining and then enjoyed for a few days any time of day or night.
I think water is going to be one of the top two items most preppers won’t be prepared for. Most of the plans I’ve heard over-romanticize what TEOTWAWKI will be like and I think those folks will be hating their water situation by day three.
My own water preparedness is way too inadequate at this point and in a SHTF world, would only work until the generator gasoline ran out. My water-preparation fix is simple but I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. I need to convert my water-well pump over to one that uses DC or 120v instead of 220v. With my 500-gallon water tank, I can pump water whenever the sun is shining to keep the tank always topped off. Even if my new pump only pumps 1 gallon per minute, that would work well for keeping my 500-gallon tank topped off.
The rest of my water system is ready to go with my 500-gallon water tank and a way to pressurize and distribute the water through my plumbing using a 12v DC pump.
If I end up with no viable way to get water out of my well due to procrastinating buying the proper well pump, I’ll have to be very conservative, which is always a huge inconvenience. I had to be during this test but I was fairly certain I had enough already in the tank to finish the experience. Had this been a month-long test, water would have been pretty scarce by the end. That alone has spurred me on to get my water preps finished up, and one more reason I’m glad I did a real-life grid-down test instead of just testing my preps individually as I had been doing.
During this test, I had to be conservative since I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get my generator running in time.
Some of the conservation measures I used were:
Shut all under-sink valves to 50% to remind me water wasn’t as plentiful as usual.
Use a bucket to catch water while I was waiting for the shower to get from cold to slightly warm. This water was used to rinse dishes among other things.
Remove the soap from the bathroom sink and replace it with hand sanitizer.
Don’t let the water run while brushing my teeth, use as little water as possible when washing dishes.
Be sure the outside hoses have the shutoff valve on the end.
Since water is so important, I added some things to my to-do list including:
New well pump
Have several 12v backup pumps for water-delivery system from the 500-gallon tank. They’re inexpensive so won’t be hard to stock up on.
Finish the well bucket I’ve been working on between other projects
Upgrade my rain barrels
Hot water shouldn’t be a luxury or waste propane to heat. A hot shower a great morale booster. I’ve been using a solar water heater for years now and continued to perform well during this test.
I need to replace my 30-gallon water heater to a 5-10 gallon one with 120v elements for days when the solar one isn’t sufficient due to weather. With visitors, showers can be staggered to allow for recovery time.
I bought a 100w solar panel three months ago to upgrade the 25w one I was using for my deep-cycle battery charger. I never got around to hooking it up so I got that done on Day Two. I had all the materials I needed to accomplish it but made a note to stock up more heavily on most of them.
For dishes, a one-gallon black protein-powder canister placed on the back deck can heat dish water most of the time.
I already use a composting toilet so there was no change in my sanitation situation. I’ve challenged readers several times to do a week-long test of their water and sanitation preps and it would be interesting to hear back from any who have done that. Those with adequate water systems will have the luxury of continuing their sanitation practices as usual with their flush toilets, sink water, hoses, and animal watering tanks. I believe the rest of the population in a SHTF world will find that water-hauling buckets, outhouses, chamber pots, camping toilets, etc. are not as adequate as they thought. My composting toilet cost $35 to build.
(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 4.)