Living without Electricity: How to do without a Refrigerator Off the Grid!
Outside of air conditioning in warmer climates your refrigerator uses up more electricity than any other appliance in your home. It is my opinion to be truly independent when going off-grid one should be able to survive without using any electricity at all if needs be. Civilization has survived for thousands of years without refrigerators and without electricity at all but due to dependence on the grid and corporations for every whim and need we have lost the knowledge of how to live without electricity or refrigerators. Here is how it's done!
First of all, let me say right here that it is a lot easier to go without electricity or a refrigerator in cooler climates. For that reason alone I think the northern states are more conducive to off-grid living. However, people have gone without electricity and without refrigerators in warm climates for..well forever. It just takes more of an effort in warmer climates IMHO.
Windmills, Hydroelectric Systems and Solar Panels
Secondly, I'm all for setting up windmills, hydroelectric systems and solar panels. However, not everyone can afford these systems. Moreover, you cannot depend on these systems 100%. The sun goes down, the wind stops blowing and water systems can dry up or freeze. To be truly independent one needs to know how to get by without any electricity at all. Then should you be able to have some electricity it will be a boon instead of a necessity.
So..how does one go without a refrigerator? At first glance it might seem preposterous to even consider the thought. I know it did to me. However, when boiled down it's really not as difficult as it might first appear.
The very first thing you should consider is buying or building a home with a cellar. Cellars also known as root cellars have temperatures much lower than main floors and considerably lower than outside temperatures. Just having a workable root cellar can preserve many food items for a very long time at a cost of...well nothing after it's built!
Additionally, many people with Cob homes have built within the walls a “cooler”. Items wrapped in water and towels and put in the cooler will last for days as well because the cob walls will stay cool even though the temperature outside is high. These are located where a typical energy guzzling refrigerator might be in the kitchen.
Utilizing Fresh Foods
One of the advantages to living off the grid is having fresh food. In order to do without a refrigerator it is important to pick crops at the height of their nutritional value. So if you have more than you need you can either dry them, can them, sell them or feed them to your pigs! The same goes for meat. Meat that is not eaten right away can also be dried, canned, smoked or sold. Canning food is key when going without a refrigerator. Canned food can last for years without refrigeration if they are canned properly. In addition, drying food can also prolong food. Having a solar dehydrator is key and these can be bought or made without too much trouble.
Now, if you do live in a cold climate you actually have your own freezer in the winter as you can set food items out to freeze (weather permitting) just be sure that they are in a place where wild animals don't have access to them! Items such as milk should be used within hours after coming out of the cow, however you can make butter, cheese and other milk products for the left over milk (as well as feed your livestock) and those products can stay at room temperature for days or in the cellar for weeks. One person I know of uses clarified ghee instead of butter. Apparently clarified ghee doesn't require any refrigeration. However, I have no idea what clarified ghee is so I cannot vouch for the taste of it. Additionally, firmer cheeses like Parmesan and Romano can stay fresh for weeks without refrigeration. Eggs will last for about a week at room temperature, however if you DON'T wash them and keep them cool in a cellar they can last for a month. After that..bake a cake!
Fresh fruit and vegetables will stay fresh longer if set them in water as well. Food should be kept with roots left on (they will keep longer), wrapped in paper towels or newspaper, changing them each day. Many items like lettuce or cilantro will last for 3 days this way. You will have to do some experimentation. However, the best thing to do with green leafy vegetables is to just not pick them until you want to eat them. Some items, like grapes, will keep very well in wet sand. If they do start to disintegrate you can make jam, raisins or stews and/or can them.
Preserving Food without Refrigeration
Items can also be preserved by leaving them on your wood stove until the next morning. Keeping them warm to hot can provide a meal for the very next day. However you might not want to use this method for more than one day.
Sprouting items like beans, seeds, grains and nuts, not only prolongs the food item but is a very nutritious thing to eat. After sprouting, one can grind them and then dehydrate them, making crackers for later or use them in salads or stir-fry’s. The whole process can take days, thereby forestalling the degenerating process.
Items like mayonnaise and salad dressing should just be made in small quantities and used fresh.
In the past our great grandmothers knew recipes that could use stale bread, bit's of cooked meat and turnip tops as well as other items. I would encourage you to buy one of the depression era cookbooks or a cookbook that shows how to use these products rather than waste them. I have included some from amazon.com on this page.
There are instances when you absolutely must have refrigeration. For example if you have a dairy farm you must refrigerate your milk and milk products. In these instances if you still wish to remain "off-the-grid" you can buy a propane refrigerator. There are also refrigerators that run off of wood. The other alternative is to add more solar panels to carry the additional load required by a refrigerator. It goes without saying (but I'll say it now :) that the newer refrigerators are much more efficient than older models, so pay attention to energy efficiency when purchasing a fridge if you can't live without one.
Much of the Off Grid lifestyle comes by thinking outside the box. Most of us grew up never having to do without electricity except for the occasional camping trips and power outages. We have never even thought to turn off the fridge permanently! However, when you really sit down to think about doing without electricity or something like a refrigerator it is not as difficult as it first sounds. Knowledge is key and freedom is the goal!
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