2020 Recap - Looking Back At All We Did on the Homestead This Year

I think it's safe to say that 2020 has been A YEAR. You may assume we transitioned from full-time traveling nomads to off-grid desert homesteaders because of all the craziness, but it turns out the seeds for this change happened 5 years ago.

Also, it turns out we got a TON of stuff done on the property this year. It sure didn't feel like it while we were in the middle of it, but taking some time to look back is always encouraging.

We hope you'll join us as we recap 2020 in all craziness.

Buying & Rezoning Off-Grid Property in Cochise County, AZ

After 5 years of traveling full-time, we knew it was time for a change. Our kids were getting older, and for some time we had been dreaming of a place to call home that was very different than the cookie cutter subdivision we left.

During our adventures we fell in love with boondocking or camping off-grid. The views, wide open space, solitude, and sustainability deeply spoke to us and changed us.

We also knew that we wanted to build out a beautiful, unique home using unconventional building methods - and do it as debt free as possible.

Enter Cochise County, AZ - quickly becoming known for its Owner-Builder Opt Out Program and RV friendly parking permits, it seemed like a great fit.

We already had a beautiful renovated Airstream to live in. And the Opt-Out would let us build unconventionally with little interference and inspections. 

So we spent several months in 2019 looking at property. The parcel we found was perfect. We all fell in love with it immediately - but it wasn't zoned properly. 

Thus began a 5 month re-zoning process in the middle of Covid. To say we were stressed was an understatement. It was hard to find places to stay with everything being locked down. And if the re-zoning was denied we were back to square one trying to find another property.

Thankfully, all was approved and we moved the Airstream onto the property in late April of 2020.

What did we do after that? Let's dive in to all the projects we completed on our newly purchased off-grid homestead this year.

Driveway

The first thing we had to do was cut in a driveway! Did we mention our land was completely undeveloped? No water, power, sewer, or driveway. 

We had no idea what we were doing, and spent many hours staking and re-staking where we thought it should be before hiring someone local to start moving dirt.

Thankfully it all turned out great, and we've been really happy with our official entry way.

Figuring out Water

Our first big step to being able to live on the property was water. Our Airstream had a good solar setup so power wasn't an issue. But we needed water every day! 

There were so many potential options, but we eventually settled on hauling water ourselves from a nearby wellshare and transferring it into a 2600 gallon storage tank on the property.

For a while we had to transfer water from that tank to the fresh tank in our Airstream each day, but that got old real fast.

The next step was to create pressurized water that could run to the city inlet on the trailer. After many, many missteps we ended up with a solar powered insulated pump house. Then we trenched a water line down to the Airstream, and haven't had to worry about transferring water since.

Except when the big tank gets low each month - then we have to spend and afternoon and refill it.

Shade Sails

Apparently in addition to everything else going haywire this year, the weather followed suit. Even at 5,000 feet elevation, our Summer was miserable. 

In an attempt to get some shade on the Airstream and cool things down, our first big project was to install some shade sails

Does it look cool? You bet! Did it work? Sort of. We're proud of the work we did, but it didn't make a huge difference in temperatures. Oh well, lesson learned!

Airstream Deck

Our next big project - and probably our favorite to date - was our floating Shou Sugi Ban deck. We needed a way to get up off the ground away from snakes, scorpions, and mud.

Plus it added a good amount of living and storage space to boot!

First Animal on the Homestead - A Puppy!

For years we told the kids we didn't have room for any animals, but after moving to 11 acres that excuse wasn't working anymore.

So they talked us into an adorable Bernedoodle puppy named Nine Nine (Brooklyn Nine Nine is one of our favorite shows).

He's quickly become a part of our family, and has necessitated a new building ASAP as he's grown far too large far too fast!

Fencing

Did you know Arizona is a "free range state?" That means cows have the right of way. They get to go wherever they want, and it's your job to keep them out.

It quickly became obvious that we were going to need a way to protect all these investments we had built on the property, and so our big Summer project was to build a fence.

We had absolutely no idea how to do this, but thankfully Moses from High Desert Homestead did a workshop on our homestead and taught us all we needed to know.

Plus we got an assist from our neighbors at the workshop! 

The result was a nine strand high tensile electric fence that we are so very proud of. It looks great, and I still can't believe we built it!

Deep Cleaning the Airstream

Turns out you get a little lazy once you put down roots. For so many years we kept things minimal and organized, but by mid summer we definitely had a sprawl problem.

The trailer needed some serious cleaning and organization.

So we literally took everything out, deep-cleaned, and simplified. Whew! That felt better!

Bringing Animals to the Homestead

With water and a fence in place, it was time to bring some animals to the property. Late Summer and Fall were a whirlwind of new creatures and fences/buildings to house them in.

First up were Kune Kune pigs. One to breed and one to eat (eventually).

Then we got some chickens. And didn't get a single egg for MONTHS!

Then we got some barn cats to keep our rodent population down.

Then we got rabbits to breed and sell babies.

Then we got two pregnant goats for milk once they have their babies.

Then we got another puppy - a guard dog - to protect all the animals in the paddock.

Yeah, it's a lot. We've hit pause on any new animals because they're requiring a lot of upkeep and work. And because we need to start building things!

Solar Shed Office

Speaking of buildings, our first structure on the property will be a hyperadobe solar shed office! It will house our solar and batteries, an office for Jon and Ashley, and a small hangout room with bed/couch and TV. Oh, and a deep freeze to store meat.

We spent a lot of time researching and prepping for this project, and are knee deep in the middle of it. Can't wait to share more as we make more progress.

First Christmas on the Homestead

This year was the first time in 5 years we would be on our own land at Christmas. So we took some time off, decorated, and spent lots of time together as a family.

It was a wonderful little desert Christmas :).

What's Next? Plans for 2021

Oh my friends, we have so many plans. So many dreams. And while Ashley hates writing them down, here are a few of our favorites:

  • Finish solar shed and install solar setup
  • Build an earthbag bath house
  • Create a salsa garden
  • Create stock tank pools and soak tubs for summer
  • Start catching some rain water
  • Build more earthbag or hyperadobe buildings
  • So much more!

While the rest of the world seemed to be falling apart this year, we are so thankful for the timing of our transition to off-grid homesteading. And we're so thankful for all our new friends who have started following our journey in this new season.

We love you all, and can't wait to share even more in 2021. Cheers! 

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Jonathan Longnecker

About the Author

Jonathan Longnecker is the strongly opinionated tattooed and bearded half of Tiny Shiny Home. He loves making music, designing brands, building websites, exploring the outdoors, and living off-grid.

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Posted December 29, 2020


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