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How to Live Off Grid in 2024 : Develop Self-Sufficiency by Gardening and Raising Animals

Elizabeth Horst is a traveling writer and editor who enjoys simple countryside living rooted in the simple joys of rural life 

Embracing the Off-the-Grid Homestead Life with an outdoor Boiler for Your Home and Farm This Winter

It is 6 AM and the first rays of sunlight are just beginning to appear above the horizon. The muffled clucks of awakening chickens come from a nearby coop while the squeal of a hungry piglet echoes from a hut across a misty field.

As the sun rises in its full glory and melts the fog that lingers between the rows of lettuce and snap peas, a brother and sister emerge from a house hidden behind tall oak trees and make their way to the nearby animal shed. It’s just a typical morning on a modern-day off-the-grid homestead!

In today’s world of modern conveniences and advanced technology, many people wonder why some choose an off-the-grid lifestyle. It requires a great amount of hard work and dedication, in addition to presenting many challenges and frustrations. In return, however, the benefits are rewarding, from learning how to work hard to providing for oneself and one’s family even in the case of technological failure.

This last element is particularly helpful to consider. With the increase of technology comes a greater risk when such features fail. It’s great to have electricity, running water, grocery stores, and other modern conveniences, but if they ever become unavailable, you need to know how to take care of yourself and your loved ones!

Let’s take a look at two areas where you can avoid dependency on the grid and live off the land. When you learn how to work the land, grow a garden, raise animals, and process the fruits of your labor, you will not only be happy, healthy, and satisfied, but you are at a great advantage over those who are unfamiliar with a self-sufficient lifestyle.

Offgrid Living

Raising Animals

First, let’s talk about four animals that are a perfect choice when deciding to grow your skills in self-sufficiency. Each of them will require some kind of shelter, an area to roam, the right feed, and plenty of fresh water. Since all of these animals are on the smaller side, you can be economical by using huts, sheds, and coops with attached fencing rather than constructing an entire barn.

In terms of the feed, there are many commercial options. Since we are in a self-sufficient frame of mind, however, consider researching the specific nutrients that your breed of animal needs and how you can grow the appropriate grains to sustain them.


These birds are easy to raise, helpful in controlling bugs around your yard, and provide a great supply of eggs and meat. Depending on your needs, choose a breed that fits your lifestyle. For example, a flock of Rhode Island Red hens will put you in the egg business while raising Cornish Cross will provide you with fast-growing, stocky birds that are perfect for meat.

Chickens on Homestead


While not often thought of as a homesteader’s animal, the rabbit is a great choice if you are looking for a quiet, low-maintenance animal as a source of meat and fur or wool. Beyond the pet and show breeds, many kinds of rabbits are an economic choice for farm-to-table. Rabbit meat is healthier and easier to digest than chicken, and when the hides are carefully tanned, the furs are soft and warm. Alternately, look into getting an Angora rabbit, which provides wool that can be spun into yarn.


Bring on the bacon! Besides being yet another source of meat, the pig is an alert, intelligent, and resourceful animal that is a perfect guard for your empty plots of earth in between each growing season. Since pigs use their snouts as a shovel, they are also happy to dig up a bare plot of ground and deposit their manure there for you


Sometimes thought of as the poor man’s cow, the goat is a great option if you are looking for a source of delicious milk. Their meat can also be eaten if you have the right palate for it, but the goat’s true value beyond providing milk is in clearing brushy areas and providing compost for your garden. Since they are stubborn and agile animals, goats will certainly test your patience and help your continued growth in self-sufficiency! Now, with your little farmyard complete, let’s turn to the ground and think about the best things to grow as food for you and your family.

Growing Garden

If you ever thought about growing a garden, you already know that the options are truly unlimited! Start with learning about your growing zone and soil type, since that will determine the types of plants that will do best in your area. From there, with timely planting and the right care, you can harvest for many months, from lettuces in the early spring to pumpkins and potatoes in the fall. Better yet, when your harvest comes in, canning and freezing will prepare you to continue eating the bounty all year round!

Every step in the gardening process has plenty of excitement associated with it. Even though you may be entirely new to this type of self-sufficient living, think about gardening as a great adventure where you discover the amazing power of plants and how you can participate in the natural process by weeding and watering, trimming and tasting. Another wonderful thing is that you can use seeds from this year’s crops to prepare for the next growing season! Best of all, you can be assured that you are providing yourself and your family with healthy and nutritious meals every time you prepare foods right from your ground. Self-sufficiency at its finest!

Now, let’s take a look at several groups of plants that every new gardener should consider.

Springtime Greens

This includes lettuce, chard, kale, and spinach. For the ambitious gardener, there are other cold-loving plants like peas, carrots, beets, and radishes to plant as well. Besides being tender and tasty, early-season lettuces can be planted in rotation throughout the season for a continuous harvest. Then there is the hardy kale that lasts well beyond frost!


Hardy Nightshades

These are your tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and potatoes, perfect for preserving. Within each group, there are many other options depending on your specific needs. For instance, if you are growing peppers and you like spicy foods, go with jalapeños and serranos instead of only bell peppers.

Savory Herbs

From “parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme” to basil, chives, oregano, and tarragon, you cannot go wrong by planting a variety of herbs! Not only do they add fresh flavor to your meals, but they can be dried for the winter and have many different medicinal purposes. For additional flavor and health, plant garlic in the fall before the winter and onions in the early spring for a late summer harvest.

Fruit Platter

For faster results, plant melon, strawberries, and raspberries. Or, if you have plenty of patience along with the right ground and sunlight patterns, consider blueberry bushes and apple, peach, pear, and plum trees.

If you are completely new to the self-sufficient lifestyle that includes raising animals and gardening, you are sure to have questions! Let’s give you a head start below as you begin researching details to match your exact situation.

How can a Portage & Main Boiler help 

Integrating an outdoor boiler into your homestead can address several pain points to many of the challenges faced in an off-the-grid lifestyle. For instance, maintaining a consistent and eco-friendly heat source during colder months is crucial for both the comfort of the homestead’s inhabitants and the well-being of the animals. Similarly, hot water is a necessity for various processes in gardening and animal care, from cleaning equipment to preparing feeds. This integration underscores the holistic approach to self-sufficiency, where every element of the homestead works in synergy, contributing to a sustainable and self-reliant lifestyle.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What if I don’t have a green thumb? Can I still garden?

Absolutely! Just remember that plants grow naturally and do not need your help to do what they naturally do. To boost your confidence, spend some time helping a friend weed their garden and ask for tips at the local farmer’s market.

Q. What does a growing zone have to do with anything?

Different regions throughout the country have designated hardiness zones that help you understand the optimal planting times for your natural season so that you can plant after frost and harvest before the cold returns. These zones are set up according to the average temperatures and last frost dates. Although they are not foolproof, they are a great way to understand growing patterns and think about how you should schedule your planting each year

Q. If I don’t have a lot of land, how many of each kind of animal should I raise?

Start small! Try raising six chickens in the spring, and then add two pigs in the fall so you can raise them over the winter and have them butchered in the spring. In general, remember that animals like to have company, so just make sure that you have at least two of each breed and they will be happy

Q. What if I don’t use animal products? Can I still be self-sufficient and live off the land?

Yes, you can! Instead of relying on animals for meat, milk, eggs, and fur, research ways to grow the right plants as substitutes. For instance, look into different types of legumes that will provide you with the protein you need. You will still want some animals for brush control and compost, but you can rethink what breeds best serve your goals

Q. How self-sufficient can I be?

This is entirely up to you and how much time and effort you want to put into it. As you expand your abilities to grow produce and raise animals, you can get to the point where you do not need to rely on the grocery store for your meats, eggs, and vegetables. Other items like rice, grains, flour, foreign spices, and fruits may be difficult to exclusively grow, but if you are determined to only eat what you grow, it is certainly possible to expand your self-sufficiency that way

Portage & Main Ultimizer


1st : First pass
2nd : Second pass
3rd : Third pass
4th : Fourth pass
A. Refractory brick lining & dry base design
B. Air from above & below
C. Full length quad-pass heat exchanger and upper baffle
D. Water – cooled rear baffle
E. Sectional, easy to repair design

A. Refractory Brick Lining

The Portage & Main Ultimizer is a refractory lined, dry base boiler. In the industry it has become known as an “updraft gasifier” because of its efficient burn. The Ultimizer is simple to use, easy to maintain and not fussy about the fuel it burns. It is very important to understand the “fire triangle” in order to fully appreciate the advantages of the Ultimizer design, and how it will save you fuel, money and time. To achieve a clean, efficient burn with complete combustion, an optimal balance of OXYGEN, HEAT & FUEL is required. The Portage & Main Ultimizer has been specifically designed to achieve this optimal balance.

Dry base design, zero ash line corrosion & no bridging 
The heat stored in the refractory lining helps ensure that a more complete combustion process occurs. I.e. fuel is reduced to charcoal in a 3-stage process.

STAGE 1: The fuel is heated to evaporate and drive out moisture. This starts at 212 degrees F

STAGE 2: It starts to break down on a chemical level at 500 degrees F. Volatile matter is vaporized. These vapors contain 50% to 60% of the heat value of the fuel, making it imperative for them to be burnt properly at a temperature in the range 1100 degrees F for maximum combustion efficiency. When all the volatile gases have been released, the remaining material is charcoal

STAGE 3: Charcoal burns at temperatures in excess of 1100 degrees F. Latent heat also helps in the re-ignition of the fire at the start of the next burn cycle. It also helps to dissipate moisture that is a result of the combustion process. The dry base boiler design gives a very hot burn. The water jacket sits above the brick line so it isn’t up against the fire, taking away the heat prematurely. This eliminates ash line corrosion and the fuel is completely burnt, resulting in considerably less ash.

Portage & Main Refractory Brick


B. Air from above & below

Exhaust gases make their 1st and 2nd pass at the top of the firebox where they move under and around a water-cooled baffle and into the heat exchanger. Gases then travel to the front of the boiler in a 3rd pass, make a 180 degree turn and move in a 4th pass to the back of the heat exchanger. In this way, all available heat is taken from exhaust gases before they exit the chimney. It gives up to 50% more heat transfer compared to other non water-cooled, non brick lined designs.

C. Full length quad-pass heat exchanger and upper baffle

The Ultimizer heat exchanger runs the full length of the boiler. It is completely surrounded by water which gives maximum heat transfer

Portage&Main Ultimizer Heat Exchanger

D. Water-cooled rear baffle

The water-cooled baffle at the rear of the Ultimizer fire pot absorbs heat and traps combustion vapors. Turbulence is created when air is introduced from below and above the fire. This turbulence provides an optimal burning environment for the vapors, leading to a hotter and more efficient burn. Also, by trapping the vapors, they are thoroughly burnt before entering the high efficiency heat exchanger. This heat exchanger is totally surrounded by water for maximum heat transfer.

E. Sectional, easy to repair design

Not a throwaway design like other brands are. The Ultimizer weighs substantially more than other brand boilers. That’s due to the heavy weight, long lasting, quality materials that go into our design. It provides a long-term, sustainable solution to your heating needs. At the end of its long life, the water jacket can be replaced. Just remove the top half of the boiler and bolt on a new top section, no welding required and your trusty boiler is good to go again. This means a very sustainable warranty, resulting in savings for the customer of several thousand dollars by rebuilding rather than replacing the entire boiler.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. My current outdoor boiler had constant issues with the water jacket, how expensive is it to repair this unit?

The water jacket comes up a lot with customers who’ve used a water boiler before as this is the most frequent point of failure on boilers. Water jackets frequently fail because of ash-line corrosion – our dry-base design has eliminated this. Further to this, ¼” thick cold-rolled steel is used to make the firebox; 2x as heavy as what some competitors use.

Most outdoor boilers are built around this water jacket in such a way that repairing is usually not offered as a warranty solution. Issues requires full dismantling of the boiler and shipping out, or waiting for someone experienced in welding and water jacket repairs to get to you. Both “solutions” often result in days of lost heating. Most warranties will mean a complete replacement of the whole unit.

At Portage & Main, our equipment is built to last, not to be tossed in the junkyard. Should problems with the water jacket arise, it has been built as a separate component within the unit’s sectional design. Simply unbolt and replace or repair on-site within just a few hours. This repair would be 1/3 – ¼ of the cost of competitors.

Furthermore, as EPA standards and levels change, it is nice to know you have rebuildable unit that you can keep, repair and next generations can use far into their futures.

Q. Is the cost of an outdoor wood boiler of this size and style really worth it?

Trying to determine whether the upfront cost of a wood boiler of the size and quality of the Portage & Main Wood Series Ultimizer is worth it will depend a lot upon the household itself and lifestyle factors. We believe the biggest point of worth is that this system offers a reliable degree of energy independence and sustainability for both residential and commercial use. For those living on farms, acreages, or off-grid locations and businesses, a wood boiler is a reliable heating solution. Even when one has access to utilities, having your own outdoor wood boiler means you don’t have to worry about the rising costs of utilities or potential disruptions from storms or other events. Rather, you get to enjoy reliable, sustainable heating by your own design and that’s a long-term benefit that many find well worth the upfront purchase and installation cost. This gives peace of mind, knowing you can run off the smallest most fuel-efficient generator.

And we do mean sustainable. In a recent interview regarding how to be greener at home, executive director of the Massachusetts Forest Alliance Chris Egan explained that while oil and gas boilers have gotten cheaper, the big benefits remain with wood boilers, stating, “you’re reducing your carbon impact and you’re saving money with a wood system.” It’s the only fuel you can harvest yourself, from your own land in many cases. It’s carbon neutral: the sun and carbon grew the tree, the carbon is released when burned, giving back to future forest growth.

Q. This is my first outdoor wood boiler, how hard is it to care for ?

The Portage & Main Ultimizer Wood Series was built to be exceptionally easy to use and maintain.

  • The control panel at the back is easy to navigate with quality components that, should they ever need to be replaced, can be readily bought around town.
  • The clean-out chamber is designed for easy disposal of ash that’s dropped through the grating.
  • The heat exchanger is easy to clean as build-up is minuscule due to the smoke burn in the upper chamber of the firebox. You pull the small amount of soot forward, then push it back into the firebox – keeping all the mess inside the unit.
  • The water float system readily and quickly identifies your water levels.

The whole unit has been thoughtfully designed to be approachable and easy to use and maintain, while likewise ensuring durability throughout all the winters it’s in use.

Transform Your Heating with the Portage & Main Ultimizer Wood Series. Are you ready to see the difference our product can offer? Contact the team at Heat Smart Plus today to learn more about the best outdoor boiler for heating homes and farms and how you can get one installed on your property!


Idaho Forest Products Commission. (n.d.). What Makes Wood Products So Green? Idaho Forests. https://www.idahoforests.org/content-item/what-makes-wood-products-so-green

Portage and Main_Logo_2024

About Portage & Main

Our head office is located in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Canada. Our dealer network spans North America and we would be glad to put you in touch with one of our knowledgeable agents. Our staff oversees the development of new products, monitors production, designs heating systems, and offers tech support for installers. All our wood furnaces are designed for installation outdoors and deliver wood heat indoors.







(306) 922-1722


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