The multiple ways in which drones can be used for the small homestead.
We typically like to keep things pretty low-tech. We don’t have an aversion to technology, we just want to do things by means which are easily repeatable by anyone. Nevertheless, there are a few modern technologies that can be really helpful at times. Drones are a good example.
We have found the use of a drone to be time-saving or generally helpful in several ways.
Site Planning: Gardening
Planning gardens can be complex when trying to get an idea of the overall “fit” of the garden(s) into the surrounding landscape, even more so if those gardens are landscape-oriented. Aerial photos of the surroundings can serve as a nice backdrop for planning.
We send the drone up to take photos from different angles. We then import or paste those photos into a word processor (Pages for Mac in our case) and then adjust the opacity to about half. We then crop the photos, print them out and then use these to make sketches of our garden beds, landscaping, etc. Drones allow us to get photos from nearly any perspective which allows us to sketch out ideas from nearly any perspective.
Site Planning: Solar
Drones can also provide helpful aerial perspectives of shadows of the area under consideration. Simply launch the drone to the same altitude/location once per hour of the time you anticipate solar exposure. Do this for each season and you can get a rough idea of the shading of the area throughout the day and seasons. This can be helpful in determining solar panel placement.
Of course, an easier way to do this is with a Solar Pathfinder ( an excellent tool for homesteaders).
There are numerous forms of inspections where we’ve found a drone to be a helpful addition.
One summer, while doing some light excavating, one of us had the unfortunate experience of scraping the lid off of a very large, underground Yellowjacket colony with our tractor. Fortunately, we were able to turn off the tractor and run away without getting stung. Those kinds of scenarios can be fatal you know!
A couple hours later, rather than risk walking into an angry swarm of homeless Yellowjackets, we were able to send the drone into the area and see where the actual nests were, determine the swarm activity and decide when it was safe to be in the area again. This also helped us determine where to make our “tactical” “surgical” strikes with Black Flag later on 🙂
Similarly, as beekeepers, there have been times where sending the drone over to the beehives has been more expedient for our needs than suiting up in bee suits, firing up the smoker, etc. Likewise, a drone can be used to get some perspectives on swarms or atypical behaviors. Note: We don’t like to annoy our bees (or any bees), and would advise keeping drone activity near a hive to a minimum.
… solar panels
We have roof-mounted solar panels. We can’t see them from the ground due to the shallow pitch of the roof. A drone has come in handy numerous times to check the health and status of the solar panels. This is most helpful in the winter to check for snow and ice build up. After all, who wants to climb on a roof in snow and ice?!
… roof and gutters
A quick drone flight can spare us the need to get out a ladder and climb on a roof. The detail level of a drone cannot match a visual inspection, but it can determine if such attention is necessary. It’s much safer than climbing a ladder! It can also be helpful in determining if out-of-reach gutters need to be cleaned.
A drone isn’t going to be able to replace a human when checking fences but could help small landowners with quickly evaluating the condition of pastures and such. Walking is, of course, better, but not always practical within time constraints. A drone can be treated like a virtual teenager – sent out to do a job 🙂
Similar to fences, making brief checks on small animal herds is also a helpful way to use drones. If you want to check on the location or general well-being of some animals, or perhaps help locate a stray animal, a drone can be a useful companion in such a task.
Oh… and drones are also useful for quick aerial scans for wayward Bernese Mountain Dogs
Monitoring property boundaries
Trespassing is an unfortunate, but very possible and common issue for landowners. In our neck of the woods, this is often in the form of unauthorized hunting, and bored young people with nothing better to do than exploring and destroying other people’s (private) property. Rather than risk confrontation with persons of unknown character and intent, a drone can provide a means of monitoring and
Rather than risk confrontation with persons of unknown character and intent, a drone can provide a means of monitoring and recording of trespassers (in daylight at least) and provide photographic/video evidence if a legal need to do so becomes necessary.
It used to be that you had to pay companies to get aerial photos of the family home and farm. These days, you can buy a drone for a fraction of that cost. Furthermore, you can get aerial photos and videos of your property annually, serving as a nice record of the changes over time. These photos and videos will be important to the generations that come after you.
If the time comes to sell your homestead, aerial photos and videos of your homestead provide a unique perspective on your property to the prospective buyer.