Homestead Tech: Drones

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).

Inspecting…

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

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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.

… fences

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 🙂

… animals

Similar to fences, Wayward Bernese Mountain Dogmaking 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.

Historical Records

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.

Real Estate

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.

Ten essential gear items for homesteading

 

Homesteading is gear/tool intensive. Below are some items we feel are indispensable to our homesteading operation. These are in no particular order, except the first.

1. Tractor

It was a couple years into homesteading before we were able to get a tractor. Now, we can’t imagine homesteading without one. A tractor saves our bacon on a routine basis. They are amazingly labor-saving. We use a tractor for everything from moving material, digging holes, plowing snow, driveway maintenance, moving heavy items, etc, etc. There are few jobs that a tractor cannot make better. If you don’t own one, get one sooner than later.

2. Chains

This often overlooked tool is essential at our homestead. Combined with a tractor or ATV, the right chains can accomplish many tasks. Useful for securing and lifting loads with a tractor, dragging tree and logs, ripping brush and trees out of the ground… the list goes on and on. Chains are expensive but worth their weight in silver!

3. Muck boots (a.k.a. “homesteading flip-flops”)

One doesn’t necessarily need Muck Boot brand boots, but these sorts of boots are indispensable to our homestead. They are great to slip on for chores and piddling about the property. They hold up well – about two years of daily use for us. We like the Muck Boot Chore ST (steel toe) for our purposes. Steel toe is worth it, especially if you’re going to deal with firewood or hauling around heavy materials.

4. Impact Driver

This basic tool gets used almost daily on our homestead. Weekly at a minimum. Drivers are ultra useful for building and fixing. We’ve come to enjoy the DeWalt 20v Max Drivers commonly available at big box stores or Amazon.

5. Headlamp or belt lamp

When we know we have work to do in the dark, which is often, especially in winter – a headlamp is essential. Because we use them a lot, we’ve found it best to just get something of average quality. Petzl and Pelican and Princeton Tec all make a good headlamp. Recently we kickstarted the ONE80 Trek and headlamp project. The belt lamps are entirely awesome for homesteading and are amazingly bright. The batteries don’t last very long (1.5-2h) but are quickly rechargeable. We just keep a spare with us.

6. Small flashlight

There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t reach for my pocket flashlight. Dusk and dawn animal chores, finding small parts that get dropped, peering in dark places… it is used all the time! We’ve really come to love the Streamlight Stylus ProStreamlight Stylus Pro. It’s an affordable pen light that comfortably fits in a pants pocket, runs on two AAA batteries, and seems to run forever without battery replacement. We particularly like its durability and how it feels in our hands, even with gloves on.

7. 5-Gallon buckets with Gamma Seal lids

The five-gallon bucket is perhaps one of the best inventions ever. Gamma Seal Lids make a great thing even better! These lids make five-gallon buckets air and water tight. They’re very useful for keeping critters out of feed, chickens out the bucket waterers, hauling water without spilling, and on and on. The lids are slightly expensive but well worth the investment.

8. 30 and 55-gallon drums

We store a LOT of feed. We also store lots of garden amendments, forage crop seed, etc. Used 30 and 55-gallon (usually plastic for us) drums with clamping lids have been a great and affordable solution for such. A new trash can from a big box store can be $25-$40. These barrels (used and rinsed) are often sold below $10 in our area and accomplish the same thing, but with even better durability.

Used drums without lids also make a great way to store long materials such a scrap metal, PVC, pipe, or other longer upright odds and ends.

9. Chainsaw

Unless your land is entirely free of trees (which doesn’t sound like the nicest of homesteading environments), you are going to want a chainsaw and appropriate chainsaw-related safety gear. Clearing land, cleaning up deadfalls, processing firewood… all things a chainsaw handles with ease. If you haven’t bought one yet, consider buying a top-quality chainsaw, an extra bar, chain files, and several extra chains.

10. First aid kits

This one is intentionally last. Homesteading involves lots of blood, sweat, and tears. Minor injuries, sprains, scrapes and bruises are common. Several good first aid kits, strategically positioned in the best places can provide quick relief when injured.

Tractors, ATV or UTV vehicles are often used for mildly dangerous work and at a distance from your home and can themselves be sources of injury. Consider it essential to have a first-aid kit on board such vehicles. They could save your life. Stock your homestead vehicle first aid kits with a few extra items such as Quick Clot, an Israeli Battle Dressing, and perhaps a military tourniquet.

Of course, without the proper understanding of how to use these items, they won’t do much good! Therefore, gain the proper training to respond to field emergencies that you may encounter.

Have essentials of your own to recommend? Share with us in the comments. Like this post? Please click the Like button.