Archive for the Homesteading Category

Baby Quail – How To Raise Quail, What To Feed Them & More!

Baby Quail - How To Raise Quail, What To Feed Them & More!

How to raise baby quail

The past two years I have been trying my hand at raising baby quail for eggs. Now that I’ve learned a lot, I thought I’d share how to take care of baby quail and how to raise quail. Many of you know that three years ago, I set a goal for myself to start growing most of my own food. Many of you might remember this past summer when I got my chickens, soon after I discovered quail was another way I could keep my food local.

While I was learning about chickens, I also learned of quail which have a few unique attributes that really appealed to me. In my journey to grow my own food, I knew I had to design everything to minimize the work I put in while maximizing what I get out.

Are Quail Easy To Raise?

Now that I’m over 2 years in Quail I’ve come to appreciate how easy quail are. In short, quail are quiet, easy raise with minimal space requirement, they produce a lot of eggs and require little cleaning. Here are a few of the main highlights of why quail are so easy!

Quail Are Prolific Egg Layers

Quail lay more eggs per bird than chickens do. While their eggs are smaller, you get a lot more. While a chicken will lay around 200 eggs a year, quail will often lay upwards of 300 a year. I also found them to lay more in the winter unlike chickens that slow down in the winter some.

Start Laying Fast Too

One of the biggest draws for me with quail is that from hatch to first egg is around 6 weeks! Compart that to chickens which don’t lay their first egg until their 6th month! This is a really big deal because you need to feed them during this lead up period and you’re spending money and time with no eggs in return. So quail are great if you want to get eggs sooner rather than later.

Quail Are Quiet

One thing that I really love about my quail is how quiet they are. While chickens are pretty quiet, except for a rooster, quail make almost no noise at all, even when startled. This is really good for raising quail in a city or in a small backyard. When I set mine up, most people didn’t know they were there even when they walked right by them. They barley make any chirping noises and that chirp doesn’t carry far at all.

Quail Are Easy To Raise

I’m still amazed at how hands-off quail really are, they are super easy to raise. When I raised my chickens, I thought they were easy, I setup my feeders and waterers and on busy days at work, I didn’t have to worry. With Quail I worried even less. They don’t eat or drink a ton, they’re cold hardy, and they can be raised on wire mesh so the dropping falls out, literally cleaning the cage on its own.

Quail Don’t Take A Lot Of Space

How many square feet per bird? You only need 1 square foot of cage per bird. When I first heard this I was very skeptical because one of the reasons I raise my own food is to make sure it’s done humanely. Well now that I’ve worked with quail, a square foot really is a lot of room for a quail. They’re small birds and they like to huddle together and are pretty sedentary animals.

You Can Raise Quail On Wire Mesh

Like my above point, when I heard about raising quail on ¼ inch wire hardware cloth I was worried that their feet might get cut up. I talked to a lot of people who’ve done it before and they all raised on wire too. When I built my quail cage hutch I did it with the hardware metal cloth with ¼ inch gaps, I’m glad I did. Over time I checked their feet and observed their behavior. I even put a piece of wood in there with some bedding to see if they preferred it, they actually avoided the wood.

How To Take Care Of Baby Quail

how to take care of baby quail

I raised my quail from both hatchlings and from eggs. The guy I bought my first round from threw in a dozen eggs for free so I tried it out. Quail are pretty much like chicks, you want to make sure they’re fed, watered and warm. You can read my post about how to set up a brooder for chickens, it’s mostly the same for quail.

What To Feed Baby Quail

Quail feed comes in crumbles called Game Bird Chow, which is a high protein between 19%-30%, for baby quail food you want at least 25% to let them grow. You want to get “crumbles” not pellets. The main producer of this is Purina and is available at any farm supply store. I picked up mine at Tractor Supply and just got the highest protein content I could find for the first 8 weeks. A 50lb bag ran about $20 and lasted a very long time.

How Much Water Does A Baby Quail Need

Only a few ounces of water per baby quail is needed, but you want to refresh it regularly to keep it clean. The one thing you need to make sure is that they don’t fall asleep in the water because they can drown in it. Baby quail are ridiculously cute and I remember them falling asleep mid stride only to lay down right where they were, so I did a shallow dish and put some smooth river rocks in it so they couldn’t lay in the water directly, but still access the water.

How To Keep Quail Warm

You want to keep your quail at around 95 degrees Fahrenheit. When you setup your brooder (indoors) make sure it’s just big enough so that the baby quail can get away from the heat. The trick here is to point the heat lamp/bulb to one corner, then watch what the baby quail do. If they all pile in the hot corner, they’re not warm enough. If they all pile in the opposite corner, they’re too warm. If they move around without clumping up at either extreme, you’re pretty good. Move the lamp closer or further to adjust heat intensity.

How Long To Keep Baby Quail In The Brooder Before Going Outside

You want to keep the baby quail in an indoor brooder for about 5 weeks and I’d time things so when you put them outside it’s during the warm part of the year. Spring or summer is ideal, if you’re in the winter months, consider keeping them inside a bit longer.

 

What Type Of Quail Should You Get? – Quail Breeds

what breed of quail to get

There are a lot of different types of quail you can consider for meat, eggs and hunting. In general you’ll be limited to what you can find locally, but also consider online sources that you can purchase. My advice is to go what you find locally because you know they’ll do well in your local climate

Coturnix Quail

Coturnix Quail

  • Good For: Eggs & Meat
  • Size: 7 inches, 3 ounces
  • Can they fly: minimally

This is one of the most popular breeds of quail and the one I choose to raise. They’re good as egg layers and as meat birds, making them super versatile. They are also reasonably cold hardy and easy to take care of. They don’t really fly as much as they fall gracefully.

 

Bobwhite Quail

Bobwhite Quail

  • Good For: Eggs, Meat, & Hunting
  • Size: 9 inches, 6 ounces
  • Can they fly: Yes, they fly well

These are another common breed that people like because it can be used for meat, eggs with the addition of flying for hunting. They are about twice the size of a Coturnix so you get more meat from them if you decide to butcher them. Since they fly pretty well, you want to make sure you have netting to prevent them from flying away.

 

Button Quail

Button Quail

  • Good For: Pets
  • Size: 4 inches, 2 ounces
  • Can they fly: Yes, they fly well

Button quail are mainly for pets or if you want some variety. They’re very small and their eggs are about half the size of other quail breeds making them less practical. I’d suggest only getting this as a novelty or pet. They do also fly very well, so netting is required.

 

Japanese Quail

Japanese Quail

  • Good For: meat and eggs
  • Size: 5 inches, 3 ounces
  • Can they fly: Somewhat

These are also somewhat common among breeders. They are good for meat and eggs, but not really for hunting if you’re interested in that. They don’t fly very well, just enough to get out of harms way if a predator is around.

 

 

How To Raise Adult Quail

adult quail

Once you’re out of your brooder which you should be doing indoors, it’s time to move them outside during a warmer part of the year. I mostly kept feeding them the same food and just switched to a normal quail waterer.

The process is mostly the same as raising chickens, so read this post about my tips to raising chickens here. https://thetinylife.com/tips-for-getting-started-keeping-chickens/

How To Build A Quail Cage

quail cages

I built a quail hutch that was 2×4 feet and 2 feet tall with a small door. I put it on legs so it would be an easy working height for me. I made mine so that all sides, including the floor, were made of ¼ inch hardware cloth. Once I was done building it, I set it up so a compost pile was underneath the cage, letting the droppings fall into the pile below.

There isn’t any real special method to this, I’d just make sure you allow for 1 foot per bird and think about ease of cleaning. Here is a video of my quail cage hutch

How To Cook Quail – Quail Recipes

how to cook quail

If you’re looking to quail for meat, they taste pretty much like the dark meat in chicken. The easiest way I find is to grill them. How many quail per person? Typically, 2-3 quail per person gives you enough meat for a meal. You can either leave whole, removing the innards or you can “spatchcock” them flat.

Grilled Quail Recipe

  • 2 ounces olive oil
  • 1 ounce lemon juice
  • 1 tbl garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp fresh pepper
  • 1 tsp rosemary
  • 1 tsp fresh oregano
  • 1 tbl Cajun seasoning

Marinate quail over night in plastic bag. Preheat grill to at least 400 degrees. Cook 3-4 minutes a side or until internal temperature is 165 degrees.

 

Quail FAQs

What is a baby quail called?

A baby quail is called a chick.

How long before baby quail can fly?

A baby quail will start to fly as soon as 3 weeks depending on breed.

When re baby quail born?

Baby quail can be born at most any time, but often is more likely in warmer months.

What do baby quail eat?

Baby quail are feed a high protein feed called “game chow” in crumbles form.

Do quails fly?

Yes, some breed can fly. Some will not be able to fly at all or flutter around.

How long to boil quail eggs?

It takes about 2 minutes to hard boil a quail egg.

How long do quail live?

A typical quail will live 2-3 years

How long does it take a quail egg to hatch?

A quail egg can take up to 8 weeks to hatch.

How often do quail lay eggs?

Quail will lay eggs most days, roughly 1 per day, around 300 per year.

 


Quail are a great way to have livestock in the city or another way to grown your own food easily. They produce a lot of eggs quickly, they are raised in a square foot per bird, are able to be kept on wire without harm (so dropping simply pass through the mesh) to minimize cleaning.

Oh did I mention they’re really cute?

Your Turn!

  • Have you ever raised quail or considered it?
  • What tips do you have about raising baby quail?

DIY Chicken Nesting Boxes Ideas For Chicken Tractors – Quick, Easy And Cheap Options

DIY Chicken Nesting Boxes Ideas For Chicken Tractors – Quick, Easy And Cheap Options

DIY chicken nesting boxes ideasNesting boxes in a chicken tractor can be a tricky thing. When I was building my own chicken tractor for my first flock of chickens, I ended up trying a lot of things. Some things worked and others didn’t. The absence of a floor is a challenge because the tractor is open to the ground. There is no surface to put anything on and the ground is not an option because the coop has to be moved each day.

I needed a DIY nesting box idea that was easy to make, cheap, easy to clean, and something my ladies liked to cozy up in to lay their eggs.

Chicken Nesting Box Considerations

things to consider with your nesting boxes

Before we get into my experiments, let’s talk about the purpose and function of your box. A nesting box is simply a container of some sort, located in your coop, where – you hope – the chickens will lay their eggs. This does two things: the hens are more likely to lay eggs because they’re less stressed and the eggs are easier to find.

Typically, you want this place to be out of the main area of the coop, a little more private, a little cozier, lined with hay/straw. You’ll save a lot of cleaning If you can avoid having these boxes under or near the roosting bars because chickens poop a lot when they sleep.

Some people have finicky chickens that are little prima donnas – my silkies were kind of like that – but in general, I don’t have time for that! If you stick with your typical chicken breeds, you’ll find good layers without the drama. For me, my ladies never had issues laying eggs anywhere I put some dry hay. There were days I was like “screw it” and I literally just put a gob of hay on the ground and called it good.

Nesting Box Size

nesting box size

You want a box that is 12” x 12” x 12”. It can be bigger; it could be a little smaller depending on your breed. Honestly, it doesn’t matter that much. When I first started, I was so concerned about finding the “right” answer to this. After years of keeping chickens, I’ve come to learn they’re not picky, so don’t fuss over this too much.

What Do You Put In A Nesting Box

what to put into a nesting box

Hay. It’s that simple – any old hay that’s dry and free from mold will work. The most important thing is that it’s dry. If you have hay that’s soaking wet you could run into issues with illnesses in your flock, but dry-ish hay keeps this at bay.

Again, when I started, I wanted to make sure I did things right. So, I bought a round bale from a farmer. One round bale is about 5 feet cubed and that gave me a ton of hay. In a pinch, I’ve used dried leaves from the yard, but I find hay easier to use and is readily available.

How much hay do you put in a nesting box?

how much hay to put in your nesting box

I put enough hay to cover the bottom of my nesting box about 2-3 inches thick when fluffed up. I only changed it when it got significantly soiled or wet, otherwise, I let it ride. If the hay was older, I’d reach in and fluff it up some, if it didn’t fluff up because it was so broken down, then I’d change it.

How often do you clean the nesting box?

how often should you clean your chicken coop and nesting box

My general rule of thumb was to clean the nesting box once a month when I changed the hay. All my boxes were plastic to facilitate easy cleaning. I’d use a Clorox wipe to quickly wipe it down and sanitize the inside. If the boxes were really dirty, I’d clean it right away. If the hay got wet, I’d clear it out right away, make sure it fully dried, then covered the bottom with fresh hay.

How to Prevent disease in your chick coop?

how to prevent disease with your chickens

Every two-ish years I’d replace the nesting boxes just as a matter of course, grime builds up and things break down. Doing this kept things fresh, germs at bay and since I chose cheap options for my nesting box, it wasn’t a big deal.

The one exception to the above rule of thumb is when I found a dead chicken, which thankfully happened rarely. Over the years I had two chickens die, one from a dog attack and the other just dropped dead. If I knew it was killed by an animal bite, I didn’t worry because I knew the cause of death.

If the chicken just died without an apparent cause, my thoughts would wander to a possible disease, though it’s not super uncommon that their little heart just gave out. Out of an abundance of caution, I removed the chickens from the coop and looked them over. Next, I removed all the bedding, raked out the run and let it l dry out really well. Then, I scrubbed down every inch of the coop and replaced all the bedding.

How Many Nesting Boxes Do You Need?

How many nesting boxes do you need for chickens

You’ll want one nesting box for every 4-5 laying hens. This will allow them to have enough space so they will not be crowded. This also prevents e piling two chickens into one nesting box; although they still may do that if they are feeling chummy.

What Should The Nesting Box Be Made Of?

what nesting box materials can you use to line a nesting box for chickens

This is one thing that doesn’t get asked enough. I try to have as much of my flat surfaces in my coop be made of durable and easy to clean materials, such as plastics, laminate, metal, etc. It’s also great if your nesting box is made of something that is cheap, because after cleaning things for a while, the grime just doesn’t want to come clean. If your container is cheap, you can just toss the old and swap out with a new one.

I’ve tried several things, which I’ll get into now.

Nesting Box Ideas And How They Worked For Me

chicken nesting box ideas

Traditional Wood / Metal nesting box

I’ve built these before out of plywood and looked at buying them from places like FarmTek or Tractor Supply. I think a lot of people try these when they first start because they’ve decided in their mind it’s what a nesting box “should be”. For your average backyard chicken hobbyist, I find them to take more time to build than they are worth. The store-bought metal boxes are expensive and make me feel guilty when tossing them out because the funk won’t disappear even after cleaning them a million times.

They’re great to look at and could be justified (or required) if you’re running a commercial operation but there are many other workable options that are easier to build, just as easy to clean, and cheap to replace. I’d skip this option unless you really want to build them.

5 Gallon Bucket Nesting Boxes

five gallon bucket nesting box idea

nesting box 5 gallon bucket nesting box lid perchThese were my first nesting boxes I ever made. I bought a few buckets with lids, cut an opening into the lid, then made a bracket to hold them in the coop. A bucket with a lid costs less than $5 new from a big box store and you can find them everywhere. If you are on a tight budget you could try to get free buckets from the bakery at the grocery store. By and large, these worked very well with only one main drawback.

Cleaning out the buckets is a breeze; the plastic is slick and super durable. I can wipe these out quickly and every now and then wipe down with vinegar or a bleach solution to sanitize. If you can, choose a darker color so any grime stains don’t show, the white ones get a little dingy looking after a while even though they’re clean.

The one major downside I found was that they were hard to mount. The bucket will be on its side so you need to mount a round object. To add to the complexity, they’re often tapered making it trickier to make a bracket.

how to make a 5 gallon bucket nesting box

The best way I’ve found is to cut the lid opening, then lay the leftover piece of plastic on the bottom of the bucket as reinforcement. After that, screw right through into a solid wall. You can use some washers to make sure the screws don’t tear through. The trouble with my coop is I didn’t have enough wall space to mount them all so the chickens could get into them easily. Otherwise, this would be my preferred method.

Milk Crate Nesting Boxes

using a milk crate for a nesting box

black snake in milk crate nesting boxI tried these when I first went from a permanent coop to a chicken tractor for the first time. I used to two screw hooks drive into the wall that held the milk crate. It was off the ground by a few inches so that when I moved the coop they didn’t get hung up. They worked really well in general and I had the crates laying around.

Here is the only photo I have of them, when a black snake climbed into the box and starting eating eggs.

The one downside to these was the latticework because it collected grime and dust. Unlike the smooth simple surface of a bucket, it took more effort than it was worth to clean all those little nooks. I soon abandoned this nesting box to make sure I kept things sanitized.

Cement Mixing Tray Nesting Bin

cement mixing tray nesting box for chickens

hens and rooster in chicken tractorThis ended up being what I settled on for my nesting box solution, though if I had more wall space, I’d stick with 5-gallon buckets. I was walking around one of the big box hardware stores when I found these tubs, they’re a smooth plastic tub that’s all black, roughly 2 feet by 3 feet.

I liked that they are black and would hide any dinginess. The slick plastic was very easy to clean and the tub was pretty sturdy because it is intended for mixing concrete. It also was just enough space for up to 15-20 chickens in one tub, meaning I only had to go to one spot for all my eggs. It also had a thick rounded edge all around the container, which let my ladies hop up on the lip comfortably without any danger of cutting up their feet.

The tub was filled with hay and placed on the ground directly. Then when I pushed the tractor, the tub was so slick and light that it was pushed along without any problems.

Chicken Nesting Box Tips and General Advice

chicken nesting box tips

To sum things us, I wanted to finish with a few points that I wish I was told more directly when I first started. Chickens are the perfect homestead animal because they’re easy to take care of, they are fun to watch, and they make a lot of protein each day. They don’t require a lot of effort, they are very forgiving, and they give back so much.

Ryan’s Tips

  • Chickens aren’t that picky, so don’t over think things
  • Set yourself up for success by choosing the right breed
  • Make the nesting box easily accessible
  • Choose nesting boxes that easy to clean and cheap to replace
  • Make sure the hay stays dry and clean
  • Keep your nesting boxes out from under roosting bars

Hopefully that helps you wrap your head around making a nice home for your hens. You’ll enjoy keeping chickens and all the eggs-ellent benefits that come from the newest members of your homestead family.

Your Turn!

  • What tips do you have for raising chickens?
  • What do you use for your nesting boxes?

Shedding Light on Solar Generators: Are Portable Solar Generators Worth the Investment?

Shedding Light on Solar Generators: Are Portable Solar Generators Worth the Investment?

Shedding Light On Solar Generators

I get asked a lot about solar generators when people find out I’ve been off the grid full time since 2013. People want to know if a portable solar generator will work for their needs, how to find the best solar powered generator, and how to determine the wattage and size needed. There is a lot of confusing information out there and the fast pace of solar innovation makes it hard to keep up with.

Jakery solar generatorUsually, the people drawn to portable solar generators are beginners in the solar world. It’s often the guy who lives in a typical house, but who would like to start dabbling in solar power. He might have a goal to live in a tiny house someday, or even to purchase a full solar panel system to power his regular-sized home.

It’s important to note the term “solar generator” is a bit of a misnomer. Usually, what people are referring to is a power pack with solar panels. It’s either a setup you can piece together yourself or purchase off the shelf. These are low-power units. They can also get expensive since they’re a turnkey solution, but they’re an excellent way to dip a toe in the world of solar.

solar panel arraySwitching to solar panels completely, without experience, is quite a daunting task (especially if you’re trying to power a typical-sized home). It’s also a significant investment, which I’m all too aware of after writing a $19,000 check for my solar panel system for my tiny house. But after getting over the initial pain of paying so much money for my system, it’s definitely worth it. In fact, it’s hard to describe how awesome it is–I literally haven’t paid a power bill for years! Not to mention that 55% of my system was eligible for a tax credit.

That’s why solar powered generators are a nice way to explore the world of solar without a huge commitment or undertaking. Most of the people asking about solar generators possess a DIY outlook. They’re often wondering if solar is something they can set up on their own. If they purchase a Harbor Freight kit, can they build a small solar power system themselves?

So, are solar generators really worth the investment? Here’s what you need to know before you spend the money on a portable solar generator.

Managing Expectations About Solar Generators

managing expectations on solar generators

My biggest piece of advice to anyone exploring solar generators or solar power, in general, is to keep your expectations realistic. Now, I’ve been on solar power for years, and I really like my system. That said, it was a lot of work and a big investment to set up. There are also limitations.

With a solar panel system, there will be adjustments to your lifestyle that is required when you go off the grid:

  • Bad Weather – if it’s cloudy for a week straight, you might be reaching for a blanket as your battery wanes.
  • Snow – Are you ready to get out and clean snow off your panels in a blizzard?
  • Something breaks – there is no power company to call, if your power goes out, it’s up to you.
  • Maintenance – Batteries to fill, terminals to clean, fuses to change, and panels to clean.

Before you go fully solar, a portable solar generator is an excellent gateway option. It allows you to explore the fundamentals of solar power generation and to understand how the larger systems work. It also lets you get an idea of the capacity (on a small scale) so you can scale up later. This is really useful because you begin to really grasp what you need to do different things.

How to run a tiny house on solar

Now, I’ll be honest, the smallest solar powered generators aren’t super useful. The smallest ones can’t charge more than a cell phone or a small laptop. Don’t expect that a small investment or even a small DIY solar generator kit is going to get you enough power to live off the grid or run your household appliances.

Most small solar generators are under 500 Watts (typically around 2-300 Watts). You’ll invest $500+ or so for the battery and power pack, and you’ll need one or two panels at $3-400 each. These solar generators won’t work for running your stove or your air conditioner (for those larger items, you’ll need a full solar panel system).

Figure where a traditional larger scale system with lead acid batteries you can get it for $1 per watt, in a solar generator you should expect to spent $2-$3 per watt because it’s turn key and often uses lithium ion batteries which are higher performing.

What Are Portable Solar Generators Good For?

What are solar generators good for?

Where portable solar generators really perform is when you’re camping, or if there’s an emergency. If you’re stuck in a hurricane or there’s a big power outage in your city, then a small solar powered generator is great to own. People often purchase them for emergency preparedness kits and shelters. You may not power your whole house on it, but at least you’ll get light and the ability to power your small electronics, which is lifesaving in certain scenarios.

These little solar generators are also handy for tailgating and camping. If you own an RV or a teardrop-trailer, you can use the portable solar generator to power your needs for a weekend trip. They’re excellent for keeping your phone charged or running a small amount of power to an item (like a light). If you tailgate often, a solar generator will easily keep your radio going without draining your car battery during the game.

What can you power with a solar generator?

Possible

  • Small Fans
  • LED Lights
  • Laptop charger

Maybe Possible

  • Television
  • Mini Fridge
  • Microwave

Not Possible

  • Refrigerator
  • AC Unit
  • Furnace

Solar generators work great for small fans, LED lights, charging your small portable electronics, and other small, low-power tasks. Some high-efficiency televisions work well with solar powered generators. You can charge a laptop or tablet with a solar generator, too.

I’ve also known many construction workers and builders who love these portable solar generators for keeping their tools charged on the job. It’s great to use a solar generator at a building site as a continuous source of power for battery driven drills, saws, power tools, and small pieces of equipment. Solar powered generators are perfect if your build-site is away from a power source and you’re working for a few days. If you’re building a cabin or a tiny house in a rural spot, then a solar generator will help keep your tools going.

There are also many jobs where a solar generator won’t cut it. These items require too much power to run efficiently (or even at all) on a portable solar generator.

Things that won’t run well on a portable solar generator include:

  • Anything with a heating element: Coffee pots, hairdryers/straighteners, hot plates, toaster ovens.
  • Small appliances: Microwaves, slow cookers, blenders.
  • Large electronics: Desktop computers, game consoles, and some projectors.
  • Heating and air conditioning: Any size AC unit (window or otherwise), heaters of any size.
  • Refrigeration: A small modern fridge will only run a few hours on a large solar generator.

Like most jobs, it’s all about having the right tool. This is advice I preach in any scenario: if you want to do a good job, you need to invest in the right tools. If you pick the wrong tool for the job, it won’t perform up to your expectations.

How a Solar Generator Works

How do solar generators work?

solar generator parts list

The battery is a power bank. Depending on the voltage of your battery, it holds power until you’re ready to plug-in and run your device. These batteries are also used to charge phone, computer, and power tool battery packs as well. Solar batteries are often finicky and delicate. While many of these solar generators use higher quality lithium ion batteries, it’s still best to use caution so you don’t damage them.

When people think of solar, they forget about the battery component, but it’s essential. If your power source is the sun, then what do you do on a cloudy day? What happens at night? Solar isn’t consistent. The battery stores the power, so it’s available whenever you need it. If the sun is making enough power, then it’s shunting the energy into the item you’re powering. If you overuse your solar source, then your generator goes into the battery.

The other component of a solar generator is the inverter. The inverter converts DC (direct current) power into AC power, which is used by most tools and appliances. AC typically runs at 110-240 volts in the USA, so the inverter ramps up the voltage from the battery to 100-240 volts.

running air conditioning with solar panels

Some people prefer the DIY approach to solar generators. They buy the base pieces of a DIY system and put it together themselves. This is certainly possible, but it’s often a challenging project for a beginner. What I’ve seen happen time and time again is people start down the DIY path but get frustrated and go out and buy an off-the-shelf solar generator instead.

How to Decide Which Solar Generator You Want and Need

what is the best solar generator to get?

If you’ve weighed out the pros and cons of solar generators and feel like you have a realistic idea of what you need (and what the solar generator can do), it’s time to decide which solar powered generator is best for you.

My biggest recommendation for anyone looking to switch to solar power is to figure out precisely what you want to charge first. Determine your power requirements (what’s sometimes called your power profile). What is the breakdown of exactly what you need to charge and plan to use when you use your solar generator?

To figure this out, I’ve created a workbook to help you determine your exact power consumption. Exploring your needs first is such a critical step, even if you’re starting with a portable solar generator because these are big purchases. Even a small solar generator with panels and a power bank will cost you a significant amount. You’ll want to get exactly what you need upfront before you invest a few thousand dollars on something that can’t do more than recharge your phone or run an LED light.

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Once you’ve decided what you want to charge and exactly what size solar generator you need, it’s time to determine your approach Are you more of a DIY type? Do you feel comfortable buying the pieces and building a solar generator yourself, or would you feel more comfortable with an off-the-shelf generator system?

If you buy off the shelf, it’s important to ask the following questions:

  • Can you plug it into the wall with a power manager for back up?
  • Does it do what you need it to do?
  • Is it compatible with other connectors and components or does it only use proprietary components?
  • Is it portable enough for your needs?
  • Can it be charged by a wall socket, car outlets, and solar panels?
  • Does it come with a wide range of power hookups?
  • Can you daisy-chain panels to get more power?

Buying off-the-shelf is a great option, but it’s important to note that different brands use different proprietary connectors (so you must buy their brand’s solar panels and components). Always check before you start investing in a product that won’t work with components you already own.

Solar Generators To Compare

Comparing solar generators

When it comes to solar generators, there are three leading brands out there: Jackery, Goal Zero, and Inergy. Here’s what I’ve learned about each brand to help you compare.

Jackery Explorer

Jackery has three sizes of portable power stations (100 Watt, 240 Watt, and 500 Watt). I had the opportunity to check out the Jackery Explorer 500 Watt Portable Power Station as well as the Jackery Solarsaga 100 Watt Solar Panel. The Power Station looks a bit like a fancy lunchbox with a battery and a bunch of power hookups. This worked well.

The one feature that made this solar generator my preferred choice was that all the connectors were standardized. Other companies used proprietary connectors which was an instant deal breaker for me, making Jackery an easy choice.

Jackery Solar generator
Some aspects I really liked about the Jackery Solar Generator:

  • Doesn’t use proprietary connectors.
  • Well-built, with a robust solar panel (this one impressed me with it’s sturdiness).
  • Compact and easy to use.
  • Lightweight (the Power Station is 13.32 pounds).
  • LCD screen with charge/discharge data and battery life status.
  • Quiet operation.
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Goal Zero Yeti

Goal Zero offers an array of Yeti power stations. These power stations mainly feature lithium batteries and are available in a range of prices and capacity. They’re built to pair with the Goal Zero solar panels, but with some configuring, they can also pair with other panels.

Goal Zero solar generator kits
Some pros and cons of the Goal Zero Yeti systems:

  • Portable and most include Wi-Fi capabilities, as well.
  • Overall positive reviews on the Goal Zero products.
  • Not recommended for radio communications.
  • Concerns about the AC inverter not holding up and shorter battery life.
  • Configuration is necessary to pair with other brand solar panels.
  • Widely available on Amazon, REI, and other retailers.
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Inergy Apex

The Inergy Apex Portable Power Station (previously Kodiak) also has positive reviews. The Apex offers a peak 1,500 Watt pure sine wave inverter and 1,100 Watt-hours of peak battery capacity. It’s also lightweight and compact.

Inergy solar generators
Some pros and cons of the Inergy APEX Portable Power Station:

  • Portable and lightweight.
  • Optional battery expansion option, which is helpful for upgrades and kits.
  • Doesn’t support the Neutrik adapter for third party panels.
  • 500 Watt max output.
  • Reliable and durable according to reviews.
  • The LCD screen is easy to read.
  • Quiet operation.
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When it comes to solar generators, my biggest word of advice is to manage your expectations. You aren’t going to be able to run your refrigerator, blender, microwave, and television on a solar generator. It’s not going to happen. You can, however, use a solar generator to learn how solar works. It can help you get used to the quirks of relying on solar power before you scale up to a full system.

Solar generators are great for camping, charging tools, and for hobbyists. If solar energy is something that interests you and you don’t know where to start, solar powered generators are a cool option to explore.

Your Turn!

  • Have you ever used a portable solar generator?
  • What would you like to power with a solar generator?

Simple Greywater Systems For Your Home

Simple Greywater Systems For Your Home

What are grey water systems and how can you set up a system for your home?  Most people living in the average American household have no reason to contemplate disposal of the water that enters and leaves their homes, but more and more people are looking for a simple way to do a greywater system for their home.

simple grey water system for your home

What Is A Greywater System Used For?

A greywater system is used to take water that has already been used from places like your laundry, shower and sink and divert it to use in another purpose like watering gardens or landscaping instead of flushing it down into the sewer. Greywater is different from blackwater (aka sewage) because while it may have some residuals like dirt, hair, grease, etc from it’s first use, they aren’t toxic to the environment and the water can be reused in some applications.

what is grey water and how to recycle water

With greywater systems you are careful about what you put down your drain when diverting it to your garden or flower beds, but I’ve found that after your figure out some cleaning products that work for you, it’s quite simple.

How Do Grey Water Systems Work?

The concept is simple in principal: you want capture all the water from your sinks, showers and other drains into one place called a “surge tank” which is a fancy way of saying a tank that can take a lot of water at once and then slow down the flow. From there you want to allow the water to slow down just enough so any solids can settle out to the bottom and then let the cleaner water move on.

Grey Water System Diagram

In the below diagram you can see the basics of a system. You’ll see how the washer can be switched with a branched valve to either go to the sewer or the outside irrigation. The water then travels outside, into the garden and finally into drip points above mulch beds.

system diagram of a grey water system

Our Simple Greywater Setup For Our Tiny House

I certainly had never considered such things until Cedric and I went volunteering on organic farms. In the south of Spain a small olive farm where water is scarce and they were watering their flower garden with the water from their sinks and showers. It was the first time I’d ever seen a greywater system in action. As aquifers run dry and water becomes a scarcer resource, I see the proper recycling of it essential to transitioning our treatment of water to a more sustainable system and tiny house dwellers are on the front lines of this transition.

grey water in my garden

Living in a tiny house we have had to face the challenge of disposing our water safely since we weren’t hooked up to the city’s system. Our initial introduction at that farm inspired us to try a simple, DIY system that would use our greywater to irrigate a small garden.

We took 1 1/2″ pvc pipe, attached it to the plumbing of the house and buried it in the garden. Since we didn’t put in a filter we did not put any solids of any kind down the drain. We also carefully chose our bath soaps, used homemade shampoos and biodegradable dish soap so as not to damage the soil, plants or watershed. The PVC pipe was placed in a 2 foot deep ditch that had been lined with gravel and landscape fabric. Along the pipe we drilled many little holes to allow the water to escape. This technique is very similar to a french drain.

Are Grey Water Systems Legal?

is greywater legal

Depending on your city, county and state you’ll have different rules that govern the use of greywater systems. Building codes, zoning laws and the public health department all come into play here, so develop a rough idea of what kind of greywater system you want to build and then have a conversation with your local city hall. Alternatively you can do this under the radar, but understand you assume all risk.

In some cases you’ll need to install a branched drain system so you can turn the greywater on and off based on what your use is.

How Much Does A Greywater System Cost To Install?

grey water system install cost

Installing a greywater system depends on your needs, how your plumping is setup in your house and how much of the work you’re going to do yourself. For a rough estimate you can plan on spending $500 to $2,500 to install a greywater system in your home. Most of the cost will be labor as the materials are cheap, but the labor can be expensive. Often it requires a plumber which can run between $50-$150 per hour and then someone to run ditches to your beds which can cost between $20-$75 per hour.

Common materials are PVC pipes, gravel, landscape fabric, a capture tank and plumbing fittings.

How To Design Your Grey Water System

grey water system design

Here are some of the key steps to consider for your grey water system design:

  1. Locate all your main drain points and plan how you will tap into each
  2. Determine where you’re going to drain your system to
  3. Check that your drains are at least 5 feet higher than your destination
  4. Mark where you are going to bury your drain lines with spray paint
  5. Install a valve at each drain sources or at the main drain pipe
  6. Pipe from valves to exterior of home
  7. Dig ditches below your frost line
  8. Fill bottom with 6 inches of loose gravel
  9. Place your drain lines and perforated lines and check all connections
  10. Cover pipes with another 4 inches of loose gravel
  11. Cover gravel with landscape fabric to prevent dirt clogging lines.
  12. Replace dirt or carry the gravel all the way to surface (best method)

Best Filtering Options For Grey Water

grey water filter options

In some cases people will put a basic filter to screen out particles like food or hair mainly to prevent clogs in the rest of the system.Once the water is free of most of the larger debris, you can then pipe it underground to where you want to deposit it, making sure you spread out the volume of water over a large enough area to allow the soil to soak up the water quickly enough that it doesn’t get water logged.

You have a filter options:

  • Filter bag before it enters into surge tank
  • In line water filter
  • Settling tank
  • Constructed wetland or reed bed
  • Setting pond or bog

Here are my two favorite ways to filter out grey water

filter options for a grey water system

Tips For Your DIY Grey Water System

diy grey water systems

The biggest challenge people have when making their own system is getting your drain pipes clogged with food particles and hair from your drains. To combat that you want to employ two features in your system: a surge tank to settle out particles and a simple filter.

When the water from your drains comes from your house it’s carrying a lot of stuff like dirt, hair, skin cells, food particles and it’s moving pretty fast. We want to slow that water down and allow those things to settle out before moving on in the process. We don’t want that water to sit too long, no more than 24 hrs, but it’s a critical step.

From there we want to use a basic filter to grab any left over things that might be floating along. These don’t need to be a high grade filter that cleans the water, just enough to catch the particles big enough to clog things down the line.

The last tip I’ll give is make sure you consider how your drain lines will work in the winter. Freezing pipes can lead to major problems, so make sure your lines are draining to pipes buried below the frost line. You can consider putting in a valve at your branched piping inside so you can turn off this during the winter.

Grey Water Systems For Off Grid Living

grey water system for a off grid cabin

Grey water is the perfect solution for dealing with waste water at your off grid home, cabin or tiny house. I use this on my off grid tiny home into a modified french drain system since I don’t produce much water waste to begin with. Don’t forget to pair your system with a rain catchment system to collect more water for your garden.

The biggest tips I can give you is to make sure your soil drains well, you can do this by doing a simple perk test (a water infiltration test) on your soil. If you soil drains well, figure out about how many gallons of grey water you will produce in a given day and design the system to handle that plus a 25% margin.

Make sure you plan it so your drain lines are down hill from your point of use, digging ditches deeper and deeper if you need to get a steep slope for proper drainage. Having the water move away from your house is critical, so make plans to drain at least 30 feet away to avoid moisture issues.

I wouldn’t spend time trying to figure out how to treat the grey water or how to make it drinkable, it’s better to use it effciently at the source, then repurpose it into your gardens for food production.

My Favorite Grey Water Friendly Products

When you make the switch to grey water, you’ll need to control what goes down your drain and that includes things like soaps, shampoo, cleaners and more. Anything that goes down the drain needs to be environmentally safe when it hits your garden.

Aubrey Men’s Stock Shampoo

grey water shampoo

This was the hardest item to find for me, a lot of shampoos that are grey water friendly don’t clean that well. Many shampoos left my hair looking greasy, but this one cleaned well and didn’t smell too “earthy”. The smell is pretty neutral, a minty smell that could easily be used by men or women. It’s a little pricey, but it’s the only thing that I found that actually works.

Amazon is the only place I’ve been able to find this Aubrey Men’s Stock Shampoo.

 

Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Liquid Soap

Dr. Bronner's Pure-Castile Liquid Soap

This is an obvious and very popular option for those who want soap that is easy on the environment and just works well. Dr. Bronners is great for washing your hands, doing dishes, cleaning around the house, etc.

You can even bath with it and I found it to be good for body wash, but as I noted above, while it works for hair, it left my hair looking greasy. A lot of people use it as shampoo and it works well for them, so it’s worth a try. It’s also not terribly expensive and a little goes a long way.

This is where I get mine, click here.

Final Thoughts On Grey Water Systems

The majority of folks don’t think twice about these things and it’s wonderfully convenient to not have to. However, I’ve learned a lot about sustainable water practices by living with this system and I prefer it to sending this precious resource to a facility with black water where it becomes much more polluted and takes a lot of energy to introduce safely back in to the water cycle. It’s also a major plus for dry environments that see little rainfall and who at times must rely on their aquifers for water, as we experienced in Spain.

grey water system installed

To sustain and maintain these deep fonts of water we need to replenish them. Allowing greywater to be filtered by plants back in to the ground recharges the aquifers and keeps them from drying out. The beauty of greywater systems is they can be incredible simple to construct, use and maintain. The collaborative group Greywater Action For A Sustainable Water Culture is an incredible resource not only for learning to construct and maint these systems, they also have a wealth of information on composting toilets, rainwater catchment and pedal-powered washing machines!

As we prepare to move La Casita once again, we plan to build a more elaborate system that can withstand the Vermont winters. The Greywater Action website also has great reviews of projects and useful tips for winterizing these systems. In the South it was much easier to manage it and although it will be more of a challenge it is another opportunity to learn and create a regenerative system. I’ll be posting details of our next greywater project so check-in with the tiny life over the next few weeks to see the details of construction!

Your Turn!

  • Have any tips on water disposal in a tiny house?
  • How do you feel about the current disposal and treatment of water?
  • Do you think greywater systems are viable project towards changing how we think about water disposal?

3 Year Review On The Luggable Loo

3 Year Review On The Luggable Loo

When I was growing up I could never imagine that I’d be sitting here writing an in depth review on a toilet, but here we are!  This is a review of my experience with a 5 gallon bucket composting toilet with the Luggable Loo toilet seat.

luggable loo review

I want to qualify this review before we get started.  I’m a very particular person, my house is kept very clean and tidy, I have germaphobe tendencies and I work in a white collar work environment where good hygiene is a must.  I say this only to give people an understanding of where I’m coming from because when I was reading reviews I couldn’t find others with similar lifestyles or standards.  When I first started, I was concerned how making the shift to living tiny might impact my corporate job at the time.

Where To Buy The Luggable Loo

You can find the seat in a few different places in the stores, Walmart, Dicks, and REI all carry them from time to time.  The problem is that it’s pretty hit or miss, they don’t carry many of them on the shelves.  So going online is the best option and I’ve found also happens to be the best price.

Shopping List To Use The Loo

Using A Luggable Loo For My Tiny House

With that out of the way, when I first sat down to plan my tiny house a flush toilet was a very important thing for me to have.  I was dead set on having a traditional toilet.  Then the real world happened.  The city I live in prohibits septic systems unless you have an extenuating circumstance (read: it ain’t happening).  For me to get a sewer line ran to my tiny house, permits, connection fees and labor it was close to $50,000!  I was shocked.

So I started looking into options: Nature’s Head, Envirolet Systems, Sun-Mar, Incinolet and many others.  The one thing that stood out to me is that they were all big, complicated and expensive.  I hadn’t made a decision because whenever I’d talk to friends who actually used them in real life, they all weren’t super happy with them and many didn’t like it.

While I was trying to decide what I was going to do, I had to move into my tiny house and just needed something.  So I swung by my local big box and grabbed a 5 gallon bucket ($5) and a Luggable Loo ($13) and some hamster pine wood chips ($3.50) and a roll of 13 gallon trash bags ($4).  A Complete kit for $25.50, much cheaper than a $600 composting toilet or $50k for a sewer line.

The setup was simple.  Take a five gallon bucket, place a trash bag in the unit with the edges hanging over the edge, put on toilet seat (which firmly clips onto the lip of the bucket) and then toss in some wood chips.  The lid will keep the bag in place so you don’t have to worry about an edge falling in.

how to setup composting toilet

Luggable Loo Review Over 3 Years

Like I said, at the time I viewed this as a stop gap, something that I was begrudgingly going to use until I could make a decision.  Then something interesting happened… I really liked it!

I will be the first to admit that there was an initial ick factor to get over, but that goes with all composting toilets.  But after a few weeks I realized it’s seriously no big deal.  If you’ve ever had a kid and changed diapers, that’s way worse.  With this setup I pop the seat off, pull the trash bag draw strings, tie it off, and drop it in the trash bin at the street.  You only have to touch the draw strings.

Urine Diverting Composting Toilet Setup

pee diverterOne caveat that I do want to make here is that, as a male, since I keep my toilet outside, I just pee straight forward on the ground, I keep the liquids out of the bucket for the most part.  I don’t have a diverter of any kind and if a female needs to use it, I just toss in a bit more of the wood chips for a little extra absorption and not worry about it.

Keeping your solids and liquids separate is very important in terms of ease of use, but also reducing smell.

If I had a live in girlfriend I may look into more complicated setups such as this urine diverter insert, which you the only place I could find online (or anywhere really) was here on Amazon.  There are some other options where you use a funnel, but honestly I like this molded plastic insert, it’s totally worth it.

Luggable Loo Tips Learned Over Time

luggable loo tips and tricks

I’ve been using this setup now for over 3 years and that means I’ve had a lot of experience in different weather, temperatures, rain, snow, etc.  Here are some experiments and lessons learned:

Skip The Wood Chips

Since I’m a guy I don’t have much liquids coming into the mix, so I thought I’d try not using wood chips at all.  That was over a year ago and now I don’t use them at all unless I have company.  Wood chips absorb liquids – some what – (I want to do a test with peat moss) so in reality it’s only to cover up what you leave behind and keep it out of sight.  If I was using it with someone I might switch back to chips or opt for a his and her throne.

Double Doodie Bags Review: Nice, but not required

double doodie bag review

These bags are very popular with the Luggable Loo, mainly because Reliance (company that makes them) is the same maker.  In many cases they’re sold together or have a coupon, which is how I tried them out.  While the bags work really well, I found that as a guy, I just would pee separately.

 

Summer Vs. Winter

summer vs winter on a composting toilet

I like the toilet setup much better in the winter.  Since I keep my toilet outside, the weather is a factor.  With cooler weather means less bugs, which means less flies and gnats.  To mitigate the bugs in the summer I just empty it once a week and I never have to worry.

There may be a few flies inside, but I give the bucket a kick and they fly away.  If you wait a few weeks in the summer you’ll run into flies laying eggs, which leads to larvae, which are gross.  Emptying it once a week means you’ll never have that happen.  In truth you can get away with a few weeks, but why chance it.

In the winter I usually empty it once a month.  There are no bugs to speak of in the winter and the cold of Fall and Winter make everything a breeze.

The Smell

smell of composting toilet

This is a very common question and here’s the truth: there is a smell.  This is really why I started using this outside.  Now that said, there is a smell, but it’s never worse than if you just went.

I have considered adding two little fans to the cover to bring in fresh air and draw smells out.  With those fans, there never would be any smell.  For those of you who are skeptical, consider that I’m a very clean person and the smell has been so little of a concern I felt adding a simple fan wasn’t worth my time.

Keeping The Toilet Outdoors

keeping toilet outside

I don’t really know anyone else that does this, but I am a major proponent of this.  I have considered building a little enclosed area to keep it in, but living on 32 acres, I don’t really have to worry about privacy, plus the view is much better!

My recommendation would be build a little outhouse, throw a little solar panel on the top and have a tiny fan always running.  If you’re camping you can get one of these pop up toilet tents which are great.

Many people ask me about rain and snow, but honestly it has never been an issue.  Every time it has rain I just put it under a base of a tree and the leaves shelter me pretty well.  There was one time when I got very sick and needed to use the facilities very often, it also poured for several days.

I just put it on my tiny house porch and it was totally fine.  In the snow, which it doesn’t snow a lot here in NC, it wasn’t a big deal either.  Even in wind, no big deal.  I have been surprised at how little it matters when it rains, is windy or is snowing.

Going To The Bathroom Outside Is Awesome

There is something really pleasant about taking care of business when you have a really nice view or just enjoy the peace and quite of nature.  If you’ve ever gone backpacking and use a toilet with a great view, it’s very enjoyable.

The Seat Of The Luggable Loo

luggable loo toilet seat review

I am very impressed how comfortable this seat is, for $13 it’s totally worth the money.  The lid for me broke off after about a year and I like it better because the lid kind of hugged a tad too close in the back.  The lid still works, I just set it on top and it has a pretty good fit.

The other thing I really like about the Luggable Loo is how well it snaps onto the 5 gallon bucket.  It has a very positive snap on the lip of the bucket, but still leave room for you to put a trash back and lock it in place.  It’s holding power on the bag is very important because it means the bag is kept in place and your business goes where it’s supposed to and stays here.

Worst Case Scenario

luggable loo horror story

The setup has worked really well for me, but there was one thing I’ve always dreaded: if it tipped over.  One day I came out and it was apparent that some animal had come up to it, knocked the lid off, then flipped the whole thing seat down.  This mean that the “contents” literally were on the ground.

This was very unfortunate, but I figure out that I could grab my shovel, slide it under the leave on the ground, using the leaves as a barrier layer, and in one motion, flip it right side up.  In the end not one bit fell out and I just bagged it and it was all good.

So far, knock on wood, I haven’t ever had a bag leak.  Even if I did, I keep a few extra pails on hand and a few lids.  This means if I ever have a catastrophic failure I just put a lid on the bucket and seal it all in, then toss it.  Pail and a lid are super durable and at only a few bucks, you don’t care if you have to toss one.

 

So that’s my review and experience with the Luggable Loo 5 gallon bucket composting toilet.

Your Turn!

  • What are you planning on using for your toilet?