In order to thrive off-grid you will need a certain set of skills to allow you a basic level of self-sufficiency. These skill sets can be learned by anyone and the information needed to learn them is abundant. I’m not saying you can’t live off-grid without these skills, but I am saying a basic level of self-sufficiency makes this lifestyle much more enjoyable. This list isn’t meant to be the end all be all list. To know yourself and know what you’re capable of is more important than anything on this list. The point of this article is to get you chasing useful knowledge.
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Accidents happen to everyone. Some are minor and some are serious. But when we’re talking about living an off-grid lifestyle it will typically mean more physical activities. More doing things rather than having someone else do things for you means more possibilities for an accident to occur. It’s not very self-sufficient If you have to go to someone else every time you have an injury. Most injuries aren’t serious enough to warrant a trip to the emergency room if have a solid understanding of basic first aid. You can even start learning more advanced skills like trauma first aid. How far you want to go with this topic is up to you, but at least an EMT Basic Technician level knowledge would be the first step. You don’t have to pay for a course to learn this stuff. Buy an EMT B text book and study it. Of course, YouTube videos are a great resource.
There is always something on the homestead that needs to be built. You’ll need a new hen house or a wood shed. You might want to expand your rabbitry and need some new rabbit hutches. The point is there’s always something to be built or repaired. You’ll be able to do most of this yourself if you have a basic knowledge of building.
The thing about building that makes it simple is that it’s really broken down into some fairly simple tools that require some fairly simple skills.
A Tape measure
There are ways to build things without an actual tape measure, but you will have to have a way of measuring things somehow. The tape measure makes this part of the building process quick, simple and precise. Reading a tape measure is really simple once you know how. Reading a tape measure is really just an exercise in fractions. For those of you who are a bit intimidated by fractions just focus on the halves(1/2), the quarters(1/4), the eigths(1/8) and the sixteenths(1/16) The fractions with these denominators are the only ones you’ll need to worry about.
Whether your using a hand saw, electric saw or a cordless saw the basics are the same. Learn to use sight guides for cutting a straight line. Practice and get a feel for what makes for a smooth cut and what makes the blade bind up.
Driving nails can be really tricky and it’s just a matter of practicing. Don’t expect to be good at it until you’ve driven hundreds if not thousands of nails. It’s ok if you miss the nail or bend the nail a few times. No one is going to care if that raised bed you built has some bent nails or hammer dings in it, but you will certainly be thankful for your hammering skills when you’re eating fresh veggies.
In construction there is a specific tool for every specific job and having the right tool for the job is a real time saver. Over time as you build more and more things and your skills improve you’ll want to invest in more tools. Just know starting out a great number of things can be built with just a tape measure, a hammer and a saw.
The art of growing food can come easily to some while others struggle, but it’s a skill like any other. You’ll get better at it the more you do it. Gardening is an area where there is way more information than you need. It’s a lot of fun researching all the different ways to grow food, but at some point, it’s going to come down to a few things.
Will it grow here?
All foods have their preferences about what kind of soil they like, what kind of temperatures they like, how much water they like, how much sun they like and so on. Find out from the locals who’ve had gardens for a long time what things grow well in your area. Start with just a few of the most common foods that grow well locally before you go all out.
How much space is available?
Spend some time planning out the layout of your growing space. I remember when I first started trying to grow veggies, I wanted to grow everything, but I hadn’t prepared a space large enough to do that. When you start growing food for the first time it’s easy to get a little overzealous. Be conservative in the beginning. It’s better to realize you could’ve grown a little bigger garden than to realize you planted more than you can handle.
How much time do I have?
Once a garden is up and going and things are growing (especially the weeds) the amount of time it takes to maintain control of the garden is quite substantial. Be careful not to over estimate how much time you’re going to be able to commit to the challenge. Many books have been written about how to grow food with less human intervention because growing food without effort on our part is the holy grail of food production. There are techniques out there that are better than others. Permaculture, when it comes to growing food with less effort is the best option I’ve come across.
The important thing to remember is that growing food isn’t easy at first, but just keep trying and keep learning. The day will come when you realize you’re pretty good at providing food for you and yours.
There are many ways to preserve food and you don’t have to be skilled at all of them, but being able to put some food back when you have extra is a skill that puts you near the top of the list of off-griders who’ve become self-sufficient. Here are a few of the basic ways to preserve food.
Canning food is a very reliable way to preserve food, but there are some specific things to know in order to get it right. There will be an investment into equipment and supplies upfront. For a new pressure canner and the supplies to get started you should plan to spend $100 to $150 USD.
Dehydrating food can be done with electric dehydrators or solar dehydrators. You can even build a dehydrator yourself so the cost to get started can be minimal. Learn the techniques for dehydrating correctly and start preserving food.
This process is a little more involved, but if you plan on raising your own meat or hunting then you definitely want to invest some time into learning about this skill. To be able to harvest a large animal like a wild hog then preserve a couple hundred pounds of meat is an excellent example of self-sufficiency.
This is one of the simplest ways to preserve food. It really only works with root vegetables, but it can preserve them all through the winter into the next growing season. Root cellars can be as simple as a trash can buried in the ground or as elaborate as a cement structure that doubles as a storm shelter. This definitely something to look into if you plan to grow a lot of vegetables.
Lastly, I’d like to say reading about skills and watching videos and digesting as much information as you can is a good thing, but many times we forget to physically practice the skill.
I’m reminded of when we first moved to the Ozarks. It was November, we were living in a tent and it was the wettest winter we’ve experienced here to date. As you can imagine we needed fire to help stay warm, to cook meals, to have coffee, but the wood was soaked. No fear, I had devoured a ton of information about starting a fire with wet wood before we moved. The problem, I soon learned, was that I hadn’t practiced that skill. I had a learning curve to overcome in the middle of the situation that required the skill. Eventually I figured it out and after lighting fires with wet wood all winter I can now do it in my sleep.
So, don’t forget that there’s a big difference between having the knowledge to do something and actually knowing how to do it.
As stated earlier this isn’t meant to be an authoritative list. I hope while you read this article it spurred an interest to start educating yourself and begin developing some useful skills. The development of skills really is the best thing you can do if you want to live off-grid.
For making it all the way to the end of the article I’m going to give you a great little tidbit.
One of my favorite resources is the foxfire book collection. This collection of books includes an encyclopedic amount of appalachian folk knowledge. The collection includes 12 books in all. Each book is a huge resource alone. You can buy them used individually or you can by the set of the latest reprint. These books are packed with knowledge and well worth the purchase. Below is an Amazon link so you can check current pricing
Check out my Recommended Books page to see some more of the books I think are beneficial in the pursuit of an off-grid lifestyle https://offgridmaker.com/recommended-books/
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