Rural Communications

Part of the excitement and challenge of living surrounded by mountains, and being off-the-grid is finding the right equipment for communication purposes. We are able to get good shortwave, and moderately good AM/FM reception, but not the best. So after searching the internet we came across a company called RadioLabs in Fortuna CA who sold a modified version of the Sangean ATS-909 called the Super Sangean 909. (And we were not disappointed with the quality of this suped-up model). We used a standard spool SW antenna (included), and we were able to get great shortwave reception. The 909’s telescopic antenna gave us excellent FM, and AM (we picked up a few stations as far as the Midwest, and I’m sure more will be discovered later on).

You can check out the Radiolabs site for the modified specs, but all we can say is that it was a great investment since this radio will be our only major source of news.

The next challenge was getting a working telephone. Part of our goal was to have as few high-cost monthly bills as possible, and we all know how much a monthly phone bill can be. So we opted for a prepaid cellphone from Alltel. We chose Alltel because there are two Alltel cell towers within a 20 mile radius of our location. The problem was… we’re surrounded by mountains. So more online research led us to Their CSR’s, Katherine and Nick were great help in guiding us to the right equipment to boost our cell signal. So we ended up purchasing an omni-directional antenna, and a Wilson Signal Booster. The signal booster can be powered by plugging it into a cigarette 12v adapter… which was a plus for us, since we have no power source installed as of yet. After the initial setup (which was quite simple) we attached the Velcro piece to our cellphone (no phone adapter needed), turned on the phone, and… presto… telephone problem solved.

Here is our antenna temporarily mounted on a 1″ x 8′ PVC pipe. We’ll decide a more permanent location for it once we finish building our house.

The Wilson Signal Booster is on the right. And… the two items on the left are our next recommendation… d.light solar lights.

We just happened to stumble across the d.light solar lights by accident. While reading an article on Rural Lighting, there was a small mention in the footnotes of a company called d.light. So after some sleuthing, we found their website. And all we can say is… what a find. Not only are these lights bright (brighter than any solar powered lights we’ve owned before), but they are inexpensive. The model with the blue top is called the “Kiran“, and sells for $15. The green light to the far left is the “Nova“, which sells for $45. Both are sold on (which is the only place to buy them in the US). The downside is… Amazon sells a lot of them and are frequently out-of-stock. So if they interest you, get them while you can. (As of this posting they are both in stock). We highly recommend them and you won’t be disappointed.

DIY Green House

We completed building our green house last weekend. We started on April 17th and worked on it for four continuous weekends. We are very pleased with the way it turned out. We opted for a modest size of 12′ x 16′.

When we build our next green house, there are a few things we will do differently. (1) Level the ground before we build. (2) Reinforce the base frame corners and pay more attention to the tendency of the PVC pipes to work their way outward by using re-bar as anchor stakes to strengthen each pipe, and keep the outward pressure off of the frame. (3) Always pre-plan your excess dirt pile. Dirt always seems to triple in size after you dig it out. (We speak from experience)

Things we did right the first time… (1) Bracing the PVC pipes with 1″ x 2″ wood strips on the top and sides of the frame. (2) Digging out the beds before we put the plastic on.

Things we may wish we had done differently… (1) Having the ability to lift the plastic on the sides to allow for more air flow on really hot days. (We’ll update you on this at the end of the summer)

Here are some photos we took during the building process.

We used 2″ x  6″ for the base frame, and 1″ PVC pipes.

We secured the PVC pipes with 2 Two-Hole Straps on each pipe. (I only took a photo of the first set of straps) At this stage we should have used re-bar as anchor stakes to strengthen each pipe. There was a big wind storm during the following week which caused the pipes to flex so much that it broke the screws that were holding the base frame together. So we had to nail the frame back together, and added scraps of 1″ x 6″ wooden joining plates on the ends for added strength.

We painted the base frame and started our plumb lines for the doors and windows. We then discovered just how much of a slant the ground was, (more than a one foot difference across the 12 foot width of the green house) so our options were… (1) dig a trench on the side and back to level it out. (2) build up one side with rocks (and hope the mice wouldn’t discover a way inside) (3) leave it as it was and live with a green house that looked like it should be in the Flintstones. We opted for digging a trench.

Once the structure was level we began building the end framing with 2″ x 3″.

Next we built the door and window frames out of scrap 1″ x 6″ and screwed them into place.

After we painted the door and window frames, and dug out the beds, we rolled our plastic over the top and secured the plastic on the ends with strips of lathe on the outside and inside of the green house. We also built a 4′ t-post fence fence around it to discourage any curious deer.

Here are the raised beds built with scrap 1″ x 6″. We also left some space in the back for storage of garden tools, and a sprouting station.

Both doors and all four windows are permanently screened. We made a rolling plastic cover for both doors for summer, and we’ll replace these with a removable plastic covered frame for the winter.