Living Independent In Perspective with Technology

A Beginner’s Guide to Going Off the Grid

May 25, 2012 / By / Comments3 green energy

The idea of “going green” has swept through Western culture pretty quickly. The ideas of conservation and helping the environment started with niche groups, but now permeate the core principles of major corporations. But a certain group of individuals are still on the cutting edge of conservation. Some have already made the switch to going off the grid, and many more are considering the alternative energy lifestyle. So how exactly do you accomplish living off the grid?

Cut the Electric Cord

First, let’s define “going off the grid.” This typically means that you don’t rely on the main power grid for your electricity, but it also includes completely disconnecting from water and the sewer as well. Yeah, it’s a big step.

For a beginner, the first action to make this happen is to establish your power source. According to TIME, most American homes need around 10,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity every year and the best way to achieve it is to combine solar and wind power sources. Obviously, you need to live in an area that is conducive to one or, preferably, both of these options. Many off the grid homeowners build their homes from scratch to ensure optimal energy efficiency.

For example, they position the home and windows to take advantage of solar heat during the winter and they build with energy efficient materials. When the sun isn’t shining, many off the grid homeowners use wind power to supplement the electricity. However, systems like this may not come cheap. The off the grid lifestyle may require you to invest tens of thousands of dollars in initial systems.

If you’re successful in capturing energy from the sun or wind, then you’ll need to think about how to store it. The electricity can be stored in DC batteries and then converted to AC power when you need it. Some off the grid homeowners use propane-fueled generators to recharge the batteries if they haven’t been able to tap into the sun or wind in a while.

Water, Water Everywhere

Electricity is only one part of going off the grid. You may need to supply your own water and waste system, too. According to the Groundwater Foundation, 17 million households get their water from a well, so it is possible. To do this, you can pay a company to have a well drilled on your property. A pump is then installed that automatically pumps the water out of the well when you need it. If you go this route, plan on spending $3,000 to $15,000 to have a well dug and a pump installed.

Some people also use cisterns to collect fresh rainwater. Many cisterns collect the water that runs off of your roof and places it in the cistern for later use. Obviously, you would need to live in an area that has significant rainwater to supplement your water source with this option. Then, there’s the waste management.

To get rid of your wastewater and not have to pay for it, you’ll need a septic tank. The tank will break down the waste and a system of pipes will distribute the waste away from the house and into the soil. Many homes out in the country use this system and it can be a very effective way to dispose of wastewater.

Heating the Home and Water

Aside from electricity sources, water supply and wastewater management, you’ll need to consider how to heat your home. We mentioned building the home to take advantage of solar heat, but fireplaces and efficient insulation will obviously help as well. Some homeowners use propane to heat the hot water and for cooking. This might not be as sustainable as other sources, but it will allow you to separate yourself from the power grid. Other alternatives such as solar hot water systems are available.

The Bottom Line

Many people who go off the grid make gradual steps to energy self-sufficiency. It starts with conservation and then snowballs into alternative energy sources. If you’re just getting started, or thinking about going off the grid, consider the monetary costs involved as well as the comfort sacrifices you may need to make.

A Beginner’s Guide to Going Off the Grid” was written by Chris Neiger and was provided by

Aquaponic Gardening at it's finest!

Aquaponics — The farms of the future are growing today.  In a valley in the Virgin Islands, in a warehouse in Chicago, on a rooftop in Florida and a greenhouse in Milwaukee, history’s newest and most sustainable form of agriculture has broken out of its seed and has began to take root.  In these farms of the future, you’ll find no waste water, no eroding soil and no harsh insecticides, but a mutually-balanced ecosystem that yields fast-growing organic produce– and the freshest, toxin-free fish money can buy.  This is aquaponics, a high tech farming technology where vegetables and fish are grown in concert, a next generation symbiotic system that just might change the way we grow, harvest and eat the food of tomorrow..

The University of the Virgin Islands: The Birthplace of Aquaponics

After decades of scientific research, the team at the University of the Virgin Islands successfully grew fish and vegetables in a closed loop system that they ultimately called “Aquaponics”.  Aquaponics is a hybrid technology including “aquaculture”, the raising of fish in a controlled system, and “hydroponics”, the farming of plants in a soil-free environment.  Both techniques had survived for centuries before being merged, with hydroponics reaching back all the way to the hanging gardens of Babylon, where raised troughs of nutrient-rich water fed plants that hung and cascaded to the grounds below.  Aquaculture is a newer technology, most commonly known as “fish farming”, where schools of fish are raised in controlled environments both in the seas and on land.

Both aquaculture and hydroponics produce toxic waste that ultimately harms the environment.  In aquaculture, fish produce natural waste that is high in ammonia, resulting in water that must be discarded to maintain the health of the fish.  In hydroponics, nutrient solutions degrade in quality and the waste water must be removed from the system or else it will harm the plants.  When merged, aquaculture and hydroponics cancel out each other’s waste, providing a closed-loop system where the plants live off the fish waste and the fish live in water purified by the plants.  In these aquaponic systems, humans can imitate the precise balance of nature to yield tons of fresh produce and healthy fish with very little effort.

Will Allen’s “Growing Power” Urban Farm, Milwaukee, WI

One of the champions of this new food movement is Will Allen, owner of the Growing Power urban farm in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Allen has built a series of greenhouses that use aquaponic technology to raise 10,000+ lake perch and over a 1,000,000 pounds of produce every year.  By using their own compost to heat the greenhouses, Growing Power runs year round, making them what might be the most productive year-round farm in the Midwest.

The secret to Growing Power, and many other aquaponic farms, is the vertical nature of their farming practice.  Using multiple raised beds that stretch toward the roofs of each greenhouse, farmers can multiply the yield that traditional farmers could expect from a flat land investment.  A single pump lifts the nutrient-rich water from the fish tanks to top level growing beds.  This water feeds these plants and then cycles down to lower levels before falling back into the fish troughs below.

What makes Will Allen’s achievement so remarkable is that he has grown over 1,000,000 pounds of produce and 10,000 pounds of fish in just a few acres.  It is an achievement that has inspired hobbyist and commercial growers alike, and has earned Allen a myriad of awards from some of the most prestigious grant organizations in the world.  Allen has received a leadership grant from the Ford Foundation, a Genius Grant from the MacArthur Foundation and another from the Kellogg Foundation.  In the world of aquaponics, this humble son of sharecroppers from South Carolina has risen to the most recognizable force in the world of future farming.

Growing Power Gallery

“The Plant” by John Edel, Chicago, IL

Not far from Growing Power in Milwaukee, another eco-entrepreneur has taken to the empty warehouses of Chicago’s meat-packing district to produce a new kind of edible product.  Amidst a slew of slaughterhouses in every direction, John Edel and his company, “The Plant” yield pristine produce of the vegetative kind.  Edel uses advanced LED grow lights to give life to his photosynthetic friends, lettuces and herbs grown in concert with fish.  As in other aquaponic systems, fish waste in ammonia form is lifted throughout a series of plant beds, where naturally-occurring bacteria transform that ammonia into nitrites and then nitrates, a rich substance that feeds his produce.

Edel’s plan is to prove that empty warehouse space in cities around the world are ripe territory for future farming.  Entrepreneurs like John can occupy this space and apply new age technology to farm vast amounts of food in limited space.  Even with sunlight taken out of the equation, farmers can use aquaponic technology to raise produce and protein without breaking soil or wasting the water lost in traditional agriculture.

Green Sky Growers: The Future of Farming

Not far from Orlando, Florida, an organic orange farmer and a biologist with Epcot Center experience have teamed up to build the true farm of the future.  On a rooftop above their city center, Green Sky Growers use aquaponics and vertical farming to grow massive yields of produce and fresh, healthy tilapia using less than 10% of the water needed for traditional farming.  As much a science lab as a farm, this facility uses a software-controlled greenhouse that ventilates based on local temperature, rotating plant towers that soak up solution from fish tanks, and happy tilapia that consume plant waste to produce nutrient-rich water.

A myriad of vegetables grow in this greenhouse year-round, where lettuces, herbs, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and more grow in a hydroponic setting while aquaculture tanks complete a biological closed-loop.  Every Saturday, their produce is made available at a farmer’s market on the streets below in Winter Garden, Florida, inviting interested foodies up for a tour of the facility.  Technology is everywhere in this farm, but the plants it yields are as organic as can be.  No pesticides, genetic modifiers or toxic waste occur in this new-aged farm.  It is the perfect marriage of technology and nature, where the people who run it understand the delicate balance between sensible agriculture and sustainable business.  Visitors to the Orlando area might find more inspiration and fun in this rooftop farm than they would at the area’s entertainment district, where Mickey and Minnie Mouse dominate the environment.

Green Sky Growers Gallery

By and large, farming and agriculture are seen as the most low-tech of occupations and sciences.  Yet in an increasingly globalized economy, these local forces are changing the way we grow, harvest and enjoy our food.  The future of farming is growing today, in unlikely places where educated entrepreneurs are changing everything.  What you eat tomorrow may come from a farm like one of these.  If you’re interested in learning more, leave a comment below or hit the links above to these revolutionary farms of tomorrow.

Amazing low-tech harvester collects water from even the driest of air

Even in places where there’s a severe lack of water, there’s one thing every place has. Air. And even in the most arid of climes, there’s moisture in the air, even if it’s not enough to be felt on your skin. So there’s water everywhere, it’s just a matter of getting to it, and that’s what Edward Linnacre did with his brilliantly simple low tech air harvester called the Airdrop.

With a deceptively modest design, Airdrop filters hot environmental air through a turbine, feeding it through a copper tubing system—with copper wool to maximize surface area—and into the earth where it cools and releases moisture. The dry air is then re-released into the atmosphere and the collected water pumped through semi-porous hoses to the plant roots. In his initial prototype, which was much smaller than the current design, Linnacre was able to produce a liter of water per day.

Generating Off-Grid Power: The Four Best Ways

So, you've thought about whether or not living off the grid is right for you; you know that it means no more utility bills and generating all of your own power, but what's involved in that? It isn't as easy as slapping a few solar panels on the roof and calling it good; when it comes to generating off grid power, there are a handful of methods that can combine to generate all the energy you'll need to live comfortably off the grid.Plug in to off grid power with solar electricity
Solar power is probably the one that jumps to mind for most of us when it comes to off-grid energy. The sun-powered option, which includes photovoltaic solar panels, an inverter and batteries, can provide lots of electric power (especially if you get a lot of solar exposure where you live) for a long time, without any moving parts and a little maintenance. The downside, at least for now, is the cost: it is rarely cost-effective to power an entire home entirely with solar, even allowing for several decades for a positive return on the investment. Add to that the wide variance of solar exposure by location (see the map for an example) and the fact that solar only works when the sun is shining, and it's easy to see why solar remains a part of the answer, and not the whole thing.

Generating off-grid power with wind electricity
If you get good news after you contact your local weather service to check on the average wind speed in your area, generating electricity from residential-sized wind turbines is another option for off-grid energy. Knowing the average and wind speed ranges, you can estimate how much electricity a given system will produce. Keep in mind, wind speeds on a specific lot can vary significantly from regional averages depending on local topography.

When it comes to picking a turbine, size matters. A 400-watt wind turbine, big enough to account for a few appliances, uses about a four-foot-diameter rotor; a 900-watt turbine uses a seven-foot turbine; a 10,000-watt (10 kW) turbine, enough to power most or all of a house, uses a 23-foot turbine and is mounted on a tower often more than 100 feet tall. Obviously, living in town or on a small plot, the big one isn't going to work as well, but many people have the necessary real estate for an extra seven-foot turbine.

As with solar, there are pluses and minuses to going with wind energy off the grid; the biggest, most obvious one is the need for breeze: if the wind doesn't blow, the turbine stays still and the electricity isn't generated. Wind turbines also have moving parts, which means more things that require maintenance and have the possibility of failure. But if you've got a good consistent stiff breeze blowing through the back yard, you can harvest its energy for years to come.

Using microhydro electricity to live off grid
Probably the least-known of the off-grid energy systems, microhydro electricity uses a source of running water, like a stream, to generate electricity; it's produced from the energy in water flowing from a high level to a lower level that turns a turbine at the bottom end of the system.

Microhydro electricity generation can be the most cost effective of the three, according to Energy Alternatives Ltd., "Our experience with micro hydro systems has demonstrated that water power will produce between 10 and 100 times more power than PV or wind for the same capital investment." If your source is good, it runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, providing lots of off-grid energy for a long, long time; because it produces so much more consistent energy, fewer batteries are needed to store the energy because there is less (or zero) time that the system isn't harvesting energy. Of course, as with the other two, it requires pretty specific on-site conditions; if you don't have a stream in the backyard, you can't use microhydro.

Solar Electricity Basics

The three most common types of solar-electric systems are grid-intertied, grid-intertied with battery backup, and off-grid (stand-alone). Each has distinct applications and component needs.

Grid Intertied Solar-Electric Systems

Also known as on-grid, grid-tied, or utilityinteractive (UI), grid-intertied solar-electric systems generate solar electricity and route it to the electric utility grid, offsetting a homes or business electrical consumption and, in some instances, even turning the electric meter backwards. Living with a grid-connected solar-electric system is no different than living with grid power, except that some or all of the electricity you use comes from the sun. In many states, the utility credits a homeowners account for excess solar electricity produced. This amount can then be applied to other months when the system produces less or in months when electrical consumption is greater. This arrangement is called net metering or net billing. The specific terms of net metering laws and regulations vary from state to state and utility to utility. Consult your local electricity provider or state regulatory agency for their guidelines.

The following illustration includes the primary components of any grid interie solar electric system. See our Solar Electric System Components section for an introduction to the function(s) of each component.

Grid Intertied Solar-Electric System

See also the following Home Power feature articles:

Energy Smarts-Efficiency Gains + Solar Electricity
Creating A Brighter Future
Getting Off the Lifetime Utility Payment Plan: Grid-Connected PV

Grid-Intertied Solar-Electric Systems with Battery Backup

Without a battery bank or generator backup for your gridintertied system, when a blackout occurs, your household will be in the dark, too. To keep some or all of your electric needs (or “loads”) like lights, a refrigerator, a well pump, or computer running even when utility power outages occur, many homeowners choose to install a grid-intertied system with battery backup. Incorporating batteries into the system requires more components, is more expensive, and lowers the system’s overall efficiency. But for many homeowners who regularly experience utility outages or have critical electrical loads, having a backup energy source is priceless.

The following illustration includes the primary components of any grid intertied solar electric system with battery backup. See our Solar Electric System Components section for an introduction to the function(s) of each component.

Grid-Intertied Solar-Electric System with Battery Backup

See also the following Home Power feature articles:

Eight Years of Solar Electricity: and Counting...
Walking the Talk: Energy Group Gets Solarized

Off-Grid Solar-Electric Systems

Although they are most common in remote locations without utility grid service, off-grid solar-electric systems can work anywhere. These systems operate independently from the grid to provide all of a household’s electricity. That means no electric bills and no blackouts—at least none caused by grid failures. People choose to live off-grid for a variety of reasons, including the prohibitive cost of bringing utility lines to remote homesites, the appeal of an independent lifestyle, or the general reliability a solar-electric system provides. Those who choose to live off-grid often need to make adjustments to when and how they use electricity, so they can live within the limitations of the system’s design. This doesn’t necessarily imply doing without, but rather is a shift to a more conscientious use of electricity.

The following illustration includes the primary components of any off grid solar electric system. See our Solar Electric System Components section for an introduction to the function(s) of each component.

Off-Grid Solar-Electric Systems

See also the following Home Power feature articles:

Postmodern PV Pioneers
Solar Comfort in the Idaho Wilderness: Off-Grid PV
All Creatures Under the Sun—My Solar Powered Barn
Green Half-Acre: Off-Grid Country Living – In the City


System Components

Understanding the basic components of an RE system and how they function is not an overwhelming task. Here are some brief descriptions of the common equipment used in grid-intertied and off-grid solar-electric systems. Systems vary—not all equipment is necessary for every system type.

Solar Electric Panels
Array Mounting Rack
Array DC Disconnect
Charge Controller
Battery Bank
System Meter
Main DC Disconnect
AC Breaker Panel
Kilowatt-Hour Meter
Backup Generator

Solar-Electric PanelsSolar-Electric Panel
AKA: solar-electric modules, photovoltaic (PV) panels

PV panels are a solar-electric system’s defining component, where sunlight is used to make direct current (DC) electricity. Behind a PV panel’s shimmering facade, wafers of semiconductor material work their magic, using light (photons) to generate electricity—what’s known as the photovoltaic effect. Other components in your system enable the electricity from your solar-electric panels to safely power your electric loads likelights, computers, and refrigerators.

PV panels are assigned a rating in watts based on the maximum power they can produce under ideal sun and temperature conditions. You can use the rated output to help determine how many panels you’ll need to meet your electrical needs. Multiple modules combined together are called an array.

Although rigid panels are the most common form of solar electricity collector, PV technology also has been integrated into roofing shingles and tiles, and even peeland-stick laminates (for metal standing-seam roofs).

PV modules are very durable and long lasting—most carry 25-year warranties. They can withstand severe weather, including extreme heat, cold, and hail stones.

See also the following Home Power feature articles:

Home Power’s 2007 Solar-Electric Module Guide
A Peek Inside a PV Cell
Solar Electric Modules — Clean Energy from Cradle to Cradle

Array Mounting Rack
AKA: mounts, racks

Mounting racks provide a secure platform on which to anchor your PV panels, keeping them fixed in place and oriented correctly. Panels can be mounted using one of three approaches: 1) on a rooftop; 2) atop a steel pole set in concrete; or 3) at ground level. The specific pieces, parts, and materials of your mounting device will vary considerably depending on which mounting method you choose.

Usually, arrays in urban or suburban areas are mounted on a home’s south-facing roof, parallel to the roof’s slope. This approach is sometimes considered most aesthetically pleasing, and may be required by local regulators or homeowner’s associations. In areas with a lot of space, pole- or ground-mounted arrays are another choice.

Mounting racks may incorporate other features, such as seasonal adjustability. The sun is higher in the sky during the summer and lower in the winter. Adjustable mounting racks enable you to set the angle of your PV panels seasonally, keeping them aimed more directly at the sun. Adjusting the tilt angle increases the system’s annual energy production by a few percent. The tilt of roofmounted arrays is rarely changed. Adjusting the angle is inconvenient and sometimes dangerous, due to the array’s location.

Changing the tilt angle of pole- or ground-mounted arrays can be done quickly and safely. Pole-mounted PV arrays also can incorporate tracking devices that allow the array to automatically follow the sun across the sky from east to west each day. Tracked PV arrays can increase the system’s daily energy output by 25 to 40 percent.

See also the following Home Power feature articles:

To Track or Not to Track
How to Install... A Pole-Mounted Solar-Electric Array: Part 1
How to Install... A Pole-Mounted Solar-Electric Array: Part 2
REview: General Specialties: Universal Pole Mount

Array DC DisconnectArray DC Disconnect
AKA: PV disconnect

The DC disconnect is used to safely interrupt the flow of electricity from the PV array. It´s an essential component when system maintenance or troubleshooting is required. The disconnect enclosure houses an electrical switch rated for use in DC circuits. It also may integrate either circuit breakers or fuses, if needed.

See also the following Home Power feature articles:

What The Heck? Disconnect


Charge ControllerCharge Controller
AKA: controller, regulator

A charge controller’s primary function is to protect your battery bank from overcharging. It does this by monitoring the battery bank. When the bank is fully charged, the controller interrupts the flow of electricity from the PV panels. Batteries are expensive and pretty particular about how they like to be treated. To maximize their life span, you’ll definitely want to avoid overcharging or undercharging them.

Most modern charge controllers incorporate maximum power point tracking (MPPT), which optimizes the PV array’s output, increasing the energy it produces. Some batterybased charge controllers also include a low-voltage disconnect that prevents over discharging, which can perma nently damage the battery bank.

See also the following Home Power feature articles:

Under Control: Charge Controllers for Whole-House Systems
What is a Charge Controller?
Get Maximum Power From Your Solar Panels with MPPT
What The Heck? Charge Controller

Battery BankBattery
AKA: storage battery

Your PV panels will produce electricity whenever the sun shines on them. If your system is off-grid, you’ll need a battery bank—a group of batteries wired together—to store energy so you can have electricity at night or on cloudy days. For off-grid systems, battery banks are typically sized to keep household electricity running for one to three cloudy days. Gridintertied systems also can include battery banks to provide emergency backup power during blackouts—perfect for keeping critical electric loads operating until grid power is restored.

Although similar to ordinary car batteries, the batteries used in solar-electric systems are specialized for the type of charging and discharging they’ll need to endure. Lead-acid batteries are the most common battery used in solar-electric systems. Flooded leadacid batteries are usually the least expensive, but require adding distilled water occasionally to replenish water lost during the normal charging process. Sealed absorbent glass mat (AGM) batteries are maintenance free and designed for grid-tied systems where the batteries are typically kept at a full state of charge. Gel-cell batteries can be a good choice to use in unheated spaces due to their freeze-resistant qualities.

See also the following Home Power feature articles:

Top 10 Battery Blunders and How to Avoid Them
Flooded Lead Acid Battery Maintenance
Battery Box Basics

System MeterSystem Meter
AKA: battery monitor, amp-hour meter

System meters measure and display several different aspects of your solar-electric system’s performance and status, tracking how full your battery bank is; how much electricity your solar panels are producing or have produced; and how much electricity is in use. Operating your solar-electric system without metering is like running your car without any gauges, although possible to do, it’s always better to know how much fuel is in the tank.

See also the following Home Power feature articles:

The Whole Picture: Computer-Based Solutions for PV System Monitoring
Mutichannel Metering: Beta-Testing a New System Monitor
Control Your Energy Use & Costs: with Solar Monitoring

Main DC DisconnectMain DC Disconnect
AKA: battery/inverter disconnect

In battery-based systems, a disconnect between the batteries and inverter is required. This disconnect is typically a large, DC-rated breaker mounted in a sheetmetal enclosure. This breaker allows the inverter to be quickly disconnected from the batteries for service, and protects the inverter-to-battery wiring against electrical fires.

See also the following Home Power feature articles:

What The Heck? Disconnect


InverterBattery-Based Inverter

Inverters transform the DC electricity produced by your PV modules into the alternating current (AC) electricity commonly used in most homes for powering lights, appliances, and other gadgets. Grid-tied inverters synchronize the electricity they produce with the grid’s utility grade AC electricity, allowing the system to feed solar-made electricity to the utility grid.

Most grid-tie inverters are designed to operate without batteries, but battery-based models also are available. Battery-based inverters for off-grid oGrid-Intertied Inverterr grid-tie use often include a battery charger, which is capable of charging a battery bank from either the grid or a backup generator during cloudy weather.

Most grid-Intertied inverters can be installed outdoors (ideally, in the shade). Most off-grid inverters are not weatherproof and should be mounted indoors, close to the battery bank.

See also the following Home Power feature articles:

What’s Going On—The Grid? A New Generation of Grid-Tied PV Inverters
Off-Grid Inverter Efficiency

AC Breaker Panel & Inverter AC DisconnectAC Breaker Panel
AKA: mains panel, breaker box, fuse box

The AC breaker panel is the point at which all of a home’s electrical wiring meets with the provider of the electricity, whether that’s the grid or a solar-electric system. This wall-mounted panel or box is usually installed in a utility room, basement, garage, or on the exterior of the building. It contains a number of labeled circuit breakers that route electricity to the various rooms throughout a house. These breakers allow electricity to be disconnected for servicing, and also protect the building’s wiring against electrical fires.

Just like the electrical circuits in your home or office, an inverter’s electrical output needs to be routed through an AC circuit breaker. This breaker is usually mounted inside the building’s mains panel, which enables the inverter to be disconnected from either the grid or from electrical loads if servicing is necessary, and also safeguards the circuit’s electrical wiring.

Additionally, utilities usually require an AC disconnect between the inverter and the grid that is for their use. These are usually located near the utility KWH meter.

Kilowatt-Hour MeterKilowatt-Hour Meter
AKA: KWH meter, utility meter

Most homes with a grid-tied solar-electric system will have AC electricity both coming from and going to the electric utility grid. A bidirectional KWH meter can simultaneously keep track of how much electricity flows in each of the two directions—just the information you need to monitor how much electricity you’re using and how much your solar-electric system is producing. The utility company often provides Intertied-capable meters at no cost.



Backup GeneratorBackup Generator
AKA: gas guzzler

Off-grid solar-electric systems can be sized to provide electricity during cloudy periods when the sun doesn’t shine. But sizing a system to cover a worst-case scenario, like several cloudy weeks during the winter, can result in a very large, expensive system that will rarely get used to its capacity. To spare your pocketbook, size the system moderately, but include a backup generator to get through those occasional sunless stretches.

Engine generators can be fueled with biodiesel, petroleum diesel, gasoline, or propane, depending on the design. These generators produce AC electricity that a battery charger (either standalone or incorporated into an inverter) converts to DC energy, which is stored in batteries. Like most internal combustion engines, generators tend to be loud and stinky, but a welldesigned solar-electric system will require running them only 50 to 200 hours a year.

66 Things You Can Grow At Home: In Containers, Without a Garden

From apples and figs to bananas and guavas -- and hops. By Rachel Cernansky
Mon Apr 26, 2010 12:55

Growing your own food is exciting, not only because you get to see things grow from nothing into ready-to-eat fruits and veggies, but you also don't have to worry about the pesticides they might contain, and you definitely cut down on the miles theyand you—have to travel.

As it turns out, with pretty minimal effort, anyone can be a gardener. My boyfriend and I are essentially first-timers this season and so far have the beginnings of strawberries peeking out, tomatoes are on their way, the basil's about ready for a big batch of pesto, and once the last frost hits, the peppers, kale, spinach, chard, and mesclun will be on their way, too. All on a tiiiny little terrace (with the help of a little DIY carpentry).

WATCH VIDEO: World's Greenest Homes: Rooftop Garden

If you're up to the challenge—and it really isn't much of one—growing your own food can be so rewarding. And so much cheaper! Just be sure to choose the right planter or container, learn how to maintain it properly, and go find yourself some seeds! (Or starter plants.) Like this idea? Be sure to check out these 6 Crazy Concepts for Micro Gardens That Actually Work to get inspiration for designing your own garden in a small space. While you're at it, check in with our Organic Gardening feature for tons more info on making your garden grow.

Here's a starter list of all the crazy things even urban gardeners, without space for a garden, can grow at home.

apple tree in container photo

Photo credit: Gardener's Supply

Tree fruits - including apples

1. Apples can be grown in a container; you can also grow them on the balcony or other small space using a technique called espaliering.
2. Kumquats
3. Avocados (plenty of extra tips online if you search)
4. Blackberries
5. Blueberries (sometimes helpful videos are available online)
6. Pomegranate
7. Cherries
8. Figs
9. Pears

lemon tree photo

Photo credit: Photodisc/Thinkstock

Citrus fruits

Citrus trees in particular are said to be good for beginning gardeners and are easy to grow indoors, so don't let inexperience or lack of outdoor space stop you from enjoying fresh-picked, hyper-local fruit.
10. Dwarf oranges
11. Grapefruit
12. Tangerines
13. Meyer lemons
14. Limes

Tropical fruits

Tropical fruits can also be surprisingly easy to grow indoors, even in non-tropical climates. Such as...

15. Bananas (look for container gardening tips online)
16. Pineapple
17. Papaya
18. Guavas (several varieties)

WATCH VIDEO: Living with Ed: Grow It On Site

hops plant

Photo credit: ©

The real surprises

19. Hops—yes, as in the "spice" ingredient in beer. Turns out they're easy to grow!
20. Aloe Vera
21. Strawberries
22. Tea (well, herbal tea)
23. Quinoa!

tomato plant

Photo credit: ©

The non-surprises

24. Tomatoes
25. Summer squash
26. Other squashes, like acorn and pumpkin
27. Hot Peppers
28. Sweet peppers
29. Cucumbers


30. Small cantaloupe
31. Jenny Lind melon (an heirloom cantaloupe)
32. Golden Midget Watermelon

herbs garden photo

Photo credit: Jupiterimages/Thinkstock


Just about any herb grows well indoors—just be sure that if you're going to do any container-sharing, you do your research first about which herbs co-habitate well together. (Some will hog water, for example, and leave the others dried out.)

33. Basil
34. Oregano
35. Parsley
36. Rosemary
37. Chives
38. Catnip
39. Thyme
40. Sage
41. Parsley

kale container garden

Photo credit: Comstock Images/Thinkstock

Leafy Greens

42. Kale
43. Mesclun greens
44. Spinach
45. Swiss chard
46. Lettuces (plenty of options there, from micro-greens to head or loose-leaf)
47. Mustard greens
48. Collard greens
49. Arugula

Root Vegetables

50. Carrots
51. Beets
52. Potatoes

growing wheatgrass photo

Photo credit: Pixland/Thinkstock

Other healthy-sounding stuff

53. Sprouts
54. More sprouts: mung bean and lentil sprouts
55. Wheatgrass
56. Kohlrabi
57. Turnips
58. Rutabagas
59. Celeriac
60. Parsnips
61. Jerusalem Artichoke
62. Sugar snap peas
63. Rhubarb (not ideal in a container, but it can work)
64. Mushrooms (again, more tips online if you look)
65. Pole Beans
66. Aaaand... asparagus, although some disagree that it does well in a container. Try it if you're ok with a risk!

Bonus 67: You can grow your own loofah, too, but you'd need a garden rather than a container for that.