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Homestead

Homestead. A home, outbuildings, gardens, barn, hen house, gardens, orchard and other means of providing a person’s needs.

In 2016 our homestead consists of:

  • Five chickens, all bantams. We have two Buff Silkie roosters and two hens, and one White Silkie hen.
  • 19 Ducks. We raise Fawn & White runners and Khaki Campbells. They’re housed together so there are crosses.
  • One-half acre of garden
  • 40+ apple trees. All but three are wild. Three are excellent producers. Some are too young to produce and others are overgrown and being pruned back into production.
  • Three plum trees. We have American, Kaga and Toka.
  • Two pear trees. I don’t remember the variety.
  • Hazelnuts. Two domestic and one wild.
  • One American chestnut. We had two but the voles girdled one and killed it. I’ll replace it this year.
Ermine, Nature’s Mouse Trap

Ermine, Nature’s Mouse Trap

Ermine – Short-tailed Weasel

We have an ermine, called a short-tailed weasel or stoat when from spring through fall when its coat isn’t white. I mentioned it before. It still comes around now and then even though it’s wiped out the mouse problem for us. There’s been some concern by folks who get a glimpse of him about the safety of our ducks and chickens. So far it’s fine. If it’s going into the hen house it isn’t causing a problem. There’s plenty of food so the little guy is well fed. We like to live with the wildlife as much as possible. As long as they mind their manners they’re welcome to stay.

There isn’t a lot I can do to prevent the ermine from getting to the poultry. They can squeeze through a tiny hole to get in and the birds are outside during the day. I’ve read that ermine are nocturnal but we see him almost daily in morning and afternoon, same as every other ermine we’ve had. Relocating is inhumane this time of year. Taking an animal out of its habitat and moving it to a strange place in the dead of winter is likely to cause it a harsh death. I’m not sure we have a live trap small enough to keep it contained anyway.

stoat, short-tailed weasel, weasel, ermine
ermine, mouse,
I suspect the occasional scattering of small bird feathers we find under the bird feeder and around the back porch are signs of his successful hunts. We hope he’ll feast on the three red squirrels. I heard it skittering around the attic yesterday and hope that means he’ll will discourage the red squirrels from moving in when it’s time to build a nest.

Look carefully, there aren’t a lot of details. The ermine is sitting on an old moose antler that Steve found it in the woods last fall while he was hunting. It’s so old moss is growing, and the calcium is breaking down. It’s flaking away a little at a time. For now it’s interesting took look at, and the ermine likes to sit on it. When he’s unaware of my presence he’ll stand up straight and tall on the antler to get a better view of what’s around. This morning he knew I was there so he came and went faster than ermines already move naturally.

moose antler, ermine, stoat, short-tailed weaselErmine’s are small, adorable and somewhat personable predators. I lose track of time watching him and will miss seeing him when winter ends and he returns to the woods.

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Walking a Snowy Trail at Sunset

Walking a Snowy Trail at Sunset

Walking a Snowy Trail at Sunset

We went to put the poultry up for the night but the ducks were napping in the last of the sunshine. Peaceful. Bills tucked under their wings, opening an eye to take a quick look, and then back to napping. I didn’t want to disturb them so we, me and the dogs, kept going. We went walking on a snow trail as the sunset. Steve packed the snow down with a snowmobile. I can walk to the food plot and wood yard now without snowshoes.

Zoemobile raced up and down the trail, mauling Ava on each pass. Ava ambled along behind me, tolerating Zoey as she always does (“Can’t you just kick her fluffy ass once, Ave? Make her stop.”), looking up and down the trail for squirrels she could chase. Zoey stayed on top of the icy crust under a few inches of snow as she tracked snowshoe hares. Zig zagging back and forth, she always looked back to me when I called her name. That’s a big improvement over last winter when she either didn’t hear me because she was in the bunny zone or ignoring me. We hadn’t had her long last winter. She wasn’t the best at minding me. Still isn’t but she did well yesterday.

Tracks!

I noticed tracks in the snow, covered by the light fluff that fell Friday night. The only thing the tracks told me was that whatever the predator is, it’s full grown. The distance between steps showed me an animal that is a bobcat or coyote. Bobcat didn’t feel right. We aren’t having that hard a winter and there are plenty of snowshoe hares to keep the cats fed. Or at least I think there are enough hares. Maybe there aren’t many when you go into the woods away from the house and food plot. If winter’s going to get hard on the bobcats we shouldn’t see evidence of it until February, still three weeks away. We haven’t had a coyote around since Eryn trapped our nuisance in November. There haven’t been any signs of a coyote around. Oh we know they’re around. We do live in the woods, after all. But not close. Not backyard food plot close. Mating season for coyotes starts the end of January. They’ll be moving around more soon. Or maybe now.

The empty memory cards for the game cameras were in the house. It was cold and a bit windy and I still needed to tend to the chickens and ducks. By the time I got them settled for the night and went to the house and back to the food plot it would be dark. The idea of looking at the pics and walking back to replace the cards after dark in this cold did nothing for me. Leaving the cameras empty wasn’t a great idea. If the animal walked by again there wouldn’t be cards to catch the pictures. And it was cold. Really cold. As curious as I was, I left the cards and planned to go back this morning to get them.

In the Woods

You can see the tracks in the first picture (taken this morning). The rest of the photos were taken last evening while we were walking.
tracks in the snowy food plotAva, walking in front of me for a change. She was looking at snowshoe hare tracks going into the trees. We’re walking out of the food plot to get to the wood  yard.

walking, Ava, English Shepherd, small farm, homestead, Zoemobile, racing around the wood yard.

walking, snowyOn our way back to the food plot.
walking, snowmobile trail
The almost full moon over the food plot. If you look closely you can see the trail stomped down by Steve on his snowshoes yesterday (Sunday) afternoon. He went out to the beaver bog to see what’s going on out there. They don’t seem to be active here right now but whatever walked through the edge of the food plot also walked out into the woods around the beaver lodge.walking, snowy trail, winter, food plotSunset through the trees. This is where I first noticed the tracks.  I think I have the answer to what made the tracks here.
winter sunset, through the trees, snow, food plot

 

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Soup – venison, vegetables, seasoning, an ermine…

Soup – venison, vegetables, seasoning, an ermine…

Story of Soup

This is the story of soup and how it came together while the power was out. Soup is a comfort food for stormy days. I pulled a package of venison from the freezer. It was an old buck, hit by an old already falling apart pickup driven by an elderly man. The buck died instantly but the truck is still limping along, barely. I let the meat thaw until it was crystaly and easy to cut.

soup, venison soup

I retrieved the new three quart stainless steel pot and its glass lid from the pantry. Olive oil poured in and heated, I added a pre-mixed seasoning meant for beef, two cloves of minced garlic, the cubed venison, and stirred. The bits of meat hit the oil and seasons, splattering a little, sputtering as the last of the ice crystals I thought had melted hit the oil.

Chattering, banging and crashing on the back porch pulled my attention from the counter to the window. A red squirrel voiced its displeasure with something. I waited a few seconds, started to turn from the window to go back to cooking, and caught a glimpse of the offender – an ermine. An ermine. That explains the dearth of mice coming into the house. The snap traps have been empty for three weeks. Let’s hope he or she creates a lack of red squirrels as well.

Sauteing garlic, seasoning and browning venison pulled me back to the stack of carrots waiting to be peeled. The peeler works both ways, forward and back, and most of the peelings fly across the counter to land in a pile. A few crash land on the floor. Chop chop chop and carrot rounds are ready for the pot. Sizzle sizzle.

Celery, purchased at a grocery store because I don’t seem to be able to grow it, is next. There’s a lot of dirt between the stalks. Mum said we’re “going to eat a peck of dirt before we die.” I wipe the dirt away with a cotton kitchen towel and decide the residue is going to count toward my peck. Chop chop chop, sizzle sizzle sizzle. What’s next?

Bay leaves. I chose two nice bay leaves and added them to the pot. I haven’t added liquid yet and the seasoning has a little sugar so the mixture is starting to caramelize on the bottom of the pot. Two good glugs of Marsala wine instantly fill the air with an aroma so rich it makes my mouth water. I stir until the bottom of the pot is clear.

When the faucet finally runs with hot water I fill a quart mason jar with water and then pour the water into the pot. Not quite another. Another quart fills the pot almost to the top. I want the soup to simmer for a few hours before I do anything else with it. The old buck’s meat will tenderize as it cooks slowly. I leave the cover off so the liquid will evaporate, condensing the flavors and eliminating the need for stock (I’m out) or bouillon (don’t feel like using this time).

While the soup simmer I tackle a project new to me – knitting without a pattern. I saw cute ornaments on IG this morning. If I can figure out a pattern, I tell myself, I can buy more yarn. I’m not really a knitter but I want to think I am. I like to buy yarn. Soft yarn in warm, natural colors, bundles of creativity waiting to happen. I start to knit the ornament and by the time it’s time to check the soup the ornament is taking shape.

Barley. Dammit, I know I bought barley. Two pounds of pearled barley, in bulk. Where did I put it? My cupboards are neat and tidy now but, no barley. The pantry shelves, neat and tidy after my search but still, no barley. Noodles it is. Not as hardy and healthy and filling but I like noodles once in a while.

Tidying up, the garlic and carrot peels, carrot tops and tips and celery trimmings get tossed into a mixing cup. Ava and Zoey will have the meat scraps and the vermicomposting worms get the vegetable scraps.

It’s dark early, 4:3o pm and the hen house lights are the only light in the yard. The soup has simmered, reducing the liquid by a third. I add a little sea salt, a pinch of black pepper, two shakes of Italian seasoning and a quarter-teaspoon of onion powder. Blow blow blow the heat away. Taste taste taste. Yes, that’s it. It’s right now. I replace the lid, turn off the heat, and let it set until Steve comes home.

Power’s Out. Freezing rain, ice, quiet.

Power’s Out. Freezing rain, ice, quiet.

Power’s Out

I hoped the lights would stay on. If the trees didn’t drop icy branches on the power lines I’d be all set. There’s plenty to do today. We cleaned up pork trimmings last night so they’re ready to grind and season today. I gathered the grinder and its pieces, the meat and bowls, washed my hands annnnd…power’s out.

Alright then, there’s bread to bake. I scraped all of the sourdough starter minus a few tablespoons and sprinkled on a little slow-rising yeast. Left in the cool corner of the kitchen, the bread wouldn’t be ready to bake until the power came back even if it wasn’t on again until dark. I made a pot of coffee in the old fashioned perk coffee maker, gathered magazines to go through, a set of small knitting needles and skein of fine yarn, two Fedco catalogs and some paper. Cuddled up on the love seat in front of the wood stove, I started knitting an ornament for this next year’s tree. Before I got comfy on the love seat in front of the wood stove I went back to finish making bread. No bread today. The lights aren’t the only thing lacking today. Power’s out in the yeast, too. A brand new package of yeast, dead. I buy it in bulk and don’t have another one-pound package. It’s on my grocery list now. Sadly, the sourdough was already mixed with two cups of water. Ruined. I’ll start more.

The lights came on just as I started to worry about the bait fish gulping air in their tiny tank.  Back to knitting and then listening to My Antonia on Audible. Even I can take only so much silence. At least outside I could have listened to the birds and the ice crackling in the trees before it crashed to the ground. The start of melting ice meant WiFi would likely come back soon. And then…power’s out again, but this time it came back quickly. I went out to take pictures of our icy world but the cameras’ batteries are dead. Of course they are because today, the power’s out. Here are photos of  yesterday’s beautiful rime ice on white pines, and the start of the storm moving in.

rime ice, pine tree, power's out
rime ice, power's out, white pine, winter
rime ice, close up, winter, foggy morning, power's out
Storm's moving in, power's out

Winter Storms: Prepare Now, Have Fun Later

Winter Storms: Prepare Now, Have Fun Later

Winter Storms

Preparing for winter storms is different out here in the woods. We don’t have the same resources as urban dwellers.

winter storms, heavy snow on trees

STORM WATCH! Quick! Get to the Store!

Wait until the last minute, preferably until the first snow flakes fall or freezing rain starts to build up, and then rush to the store. Buy the last loaf of bread, gallon of milk (don’t drink milk? buy it anyway, it’s a storm requirement), and if you’re in Maine, a bottle of Allen’s Coffee Brandy (I’ll dehydrate before I’ll drink that stuff but again, if you’re in Maine, it’s a requirement). Fight for that bread! It’s going to storm and you might not get out for days. Days I tell you, and what are you going to do without bread? You might want some toilet paper while you’re there too but if you have to choose between the two…

Water

Water was my biggest surprise when we left the city. You don’t have to have electricity to have water when you’re on a public water system. When the power went out the first time and water trickled to a stop, I was stunned. Without electricity the well pump doesn’t turn on. The only water we have when the power is out is what’s already in the pipes and can trickle out on its own. We need a generator to run the pump OR we can fill containers. I scrub the bathtub when the storm starts and fill it with water. We can wash up, water the poultry and dogs, and flush the toilet (pour a gallon of water into the bowl to flush). I also fill the perk coffee maker, that old fashioned one that works on the stove. If you’re coffee dependent and have a thermal carafe, make a pot of coffee and let it sit. Our carafe keeps coffee hot for 15 hours.

One gallon of water per day per person is the standard amount to store. If it’s a normal storm and the roads are going to be cleared tomorrow, be reasonable. If not, store that water. You’ll use it even if it’s to flush the toilet after the power is over.

Water for Poultry

Add 1/3 cup of salt to a 20 ounce drink bottle and fill the bottle with hot water. You don’t need to ever heat the water again. Place the bottle on its side in the bottom of a Fortex or other watering pan used for poultry. Add enough water to cover three-quarters of the bottle. The water in the pan still freezes but the ice is thin enough for the birds to peck through around the bottle. One was alright in a 20 inch pan but two is better. The birds eventually figure out where to peck through the ice to get to water. This is going to save me from going out to the hen house during tomorrow’s nor’easter.

This works outside on a normal day. The ducks’ pan might have ice on top of the water but at the end of the day the water in the bottom is still liquid. I can flip the flexible pan over to break the ice out. Leave the salt water bottle in the pan for morning.

Cooking

The stove is propane. Having an electric stove doesn’t make sense to me. When the power is out the burners will still light. Some stoves, propane or natural gas, have a pilot light. A match held to the burner before turning the knob works just as well. Lit match first, remember that. Turning on the knob to release the propane into the air and then lighting the match is dangerous. Match first, then turn the knob. The oven won’t light without a pilot light. Don’t try to light it with a match. ove is also suitable for cooking.

Heat

We heat with wood so staying warm isn’t an issue when it’s storming. A fan that spins with the power of heat is always sitting on the wood stove. It’s no where near as powerful as the blower on the stove but works well enough. The burners on a propane or natural gas stove put out a lot of heat. You can at least heat the kitchen in an emergency.

Freezers

As homesteaders and frugal shoppers, freezers are always full with either food or ice. If we don’t lift the doors they won’t start to melt for the first two days without power. Freezers don’t run constantly. I can hear them click on once during the day and again in the evening. Running a generator once a day will keep the food frozen. You can run the fridge on a generator too. Learn how to use your generator safely well before the storm.

Gas

Speaking of generators, get gas ahead of time. Fill the vehicles and make sure you have enough for the snowblower. Steve plows with our tractor so he needs to fill the tank with diesel and have a propane heater ready to warm the engine so it will start.

Lights

winter stormsCandles and flashlights provide plenty of light as long as you’re using good candles and fresh batteries. They’re not high maintenance but you do have to think about them. We use Luci lights. They charge under a lamp or in the window. One charge works for 12 or more hours, and it’s unlikely you’re going to need artificial light for that long. Most of us will turn the light off to sleep through at least part of the night. I store Luci on the window sill in front of plants so I don’t see it until it’s needed.

Headlamps keep your hands free to carry water, hay, feed or anything else you need to do outdoors. Something to keep in mind – they drive me crazy inside because when the person wearing one looks at you, the light shines directly into  your eyes. Be sure to have another source of light indoors.

Solar lights. You know those little lights used outdoors for decoration? Charge them in the sun, preferably in a warmer spot like a plastic black mat that absorbs heat, and bring them in before sunset. One .99 cent light should be bright enough to light up the bathroom and serve as a nightlight.

Shovel, Salt, Sand

It’s important to keep exits free of snow during a storm. While you’re preparing for a storm, bring your shovel, salt and sand inside. Don’t plunk it down in front of the television. The porch or mud room or just inside the kitchen door is handy. It’s hard to dig through a snowdrift to get your shovel if your shovel is in the drift. Use enough salt and sand to make walking safe but there’s no sense in spreading much of either if the snow is still falling.

winter storms, gamesGames and Books

Make some hot chocolate and get out the games and books. Winter storms can be a lot of fun. I’m reading a book on food photography but when the nor’easter starts tomorrow I’ll probably switch to something amusing. Board games, hot chocolate and cookies (baked the day before) are a great combination.

Charge!

Charge batteries and devices. These days it’s easy to recharge but go into the storm with everything charged. My truck has a regular outlet in it, no adapter needed. A phone will charge while a vehicle is being cleaned off, snow shoveled around it, and the mailbox cleaned out. Winter storms are good times to put down the gadgets but it’s also convenient to pick one up and check the forecast.

Always Have These Things on Hand

We’re talking about winter storms today but you never know when something else might happen. An automobile accident can wipe out the power. Always have on hand:

  • matches
  • lighting
  • water if you need electricity to get water
  • manual can opener (that’s all we have)
  • healthy food. Your body needs good energy for shoveling, building forts, and if you have it, tending livestock when the storm clears.
  • meds. You might be able to refill a day or two early when a big storm is coming. Call the pharmacy in advance. Do not wait until the last minute on this one (because you’ll be fighting for bread, right?)

Preparing for winter storms isn’t a big deal when you’ve been homesteading a while. I hope the tips are helpful not only in preparing for winter storms but for things you should have on hand just because.

Winter Mornings on the Homestead

Winter Mornings on the Homestead

Winter Mornings

Winter mornings have taken on a new way, or more accurately, returned to old ways. I woke this morning, excited about the day ahead, and snuggled up to Steve. As of last night my freelance writing days are on long-term old…or maybe over. I’m still working on cutting back and refocusing, and I’m making a lot of progress. I’ve kept one publication, Walden Publishing, and let the rest go so that I have time to finish writing a book or two.

We lucked out with only four inches of fresh snow.  chirp  The call was familiar but I couldn’t place it and couldn’t find the bird. There are few deer on the game cameras now. It’s so cold at night the batteries are either slow or don’t work at all. They’re here according to the activity in the snow. The kale stems are nibbled down a little more each night. The deer stop short of eating the terminal bud. If they don’t come back to eat more before spring the plants might break dormancy and grow again. Fresh kale in the spring would be nice.  chirp 

Back in the house…

Back in the house, winter mornings are feeding the dogs and the sour dough, laundry to wash and hang by the wood stove, supper to plan… Speaking of supper, Steve is doing some of the cooking on a regular basis now. I love love love having a meal cooked for me, and he’s a great cook. He made chicken enchiladas and American chop suey (goulash) on Sunday. I’ll cook only twice this week and spend more uninterrupted time writing. We’ll have baked cranberry chicken tonight. Anyway, we’re talking about mornings. I brought in a bin of white pine, eastern hemlock, white cedar and balsam fir and went about making a wreath and three swags.

A blue jay napped in a hydrangea bush outside the sun porch, puffed up against the cold wind, barely flinching when the thin branch bounced. The feeders are full of suet, energy blocks, corn, sunflower and other assorted seeds.  chirp  I found the chirp when I brought fresh water to the ducks and chickens.  chirp  A robin huddled under an apple tree behind the hen house, pecking away at a frozen apple. It flew into another tree so I left quickly. Will it stay the winter? Time will tell. The photo is a maxed out zoom on my phone. I’ll take a different camera with me on a warmer day.

winter mornings, evergreen wreath, Christmas wreath

winter mornings, kale, deer
winter morning, terminal bud, kale, food plot

winter mornings

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Long Winter Nights and Short Days of Late Fall

Long Winter Nights and Short Days of Late Fall

Long Winter Nights and Short Days

The long winter nights of late fall are here. We’ve had snow for about a week, more before it rained. Crusty snow is covered in a layer of soft fluff now. Sunset is early, 3:48 pm today, and sunrise isn’t until 6:57 tomorrow, after some of our school kids get on the bus. It’s technically still fall but it’s winter. It looks, feels and smells like winter.I take Ava and Zoey out to run while I do morning chores. Zoey runs like a maniac but Ava is usually on my heels waiting for her birds. She wants to snuffle them, checking them over to make sure they’re alright. Running, hunting and play is reserved for after her morning chores are complete. We start chores before sunrise when the overnight temps have been colder than usual to make sure the birds have an early morning drink to help them stay warm.

Grass leaning inside the poultry pen. Meadow vole hole in the snow.long winter nightsIt didn’t go unnoticed by Ava’s and Zoey’s noses. They followed the trail through the snow but didn’t find the vole.
long winter nights, duck tollerThey worked together to track a snowshoe hare. No luck there, either. They tracked the hare while I checked game cameras (does and fawns).
long winter nightsI stopped to take a picture of the pumpkins Steve put in the food plot for the deer and hare. Here comes Zoey! Didn’t I mention that she runs like a maniac?
And there goes Zoey!
By the time chores were done, cameras checked, bunnies and voles tracked, and Zoey run until she collapsed in the snow to pick snowballs off her feet, the sun was up and bright. long winter nights, sunrise, spruce trees, snow

I met a dear friend for lunch today. On the way into town I saw three bald eagles flying together, circling, diving at and ducking from each other, and a fourth eagle later on. Is this the beginning of a new pair? Dating? Courting? While the days are still getting shorter? Am I overthinking the whole thing? I’m grateful to live in a beautiful area where I can see four mature American bald eagles in 15 minutes.

Evening chores are done in mid-afternoon now. I warm leftover winter squash and rutabaga and fill a quart jug with warm molasses water for the chickens. The ducks aren’t thirsty this late in the day but the Silkies gather at my feet for their warm drink. I close the door to the pen and gather eggs while Ava snuffles her birds good night, and then lean against the wall to watch. Snuffle snuffle squawk! snuffle. Ducks crowd into the back corner to avoid the snuffle fest, do their version of a dog turning in circles, and eventually settle in.

We leave the hen house when Ava’s ready to tolerate Zoey’s antics. They race around, tugging on a mostly frozen toy, growling like the mean dogs they could never be, and wear each other out. We haven’t moved the firewood rack inside yet…still…so I lug three armloads in to thaw overnight by the fire. I’ll do it tomorrow. Or Thursday. Or next week. Soon.

By 4:30 pm we’re back in the house. I’m back in pajamas, writing at the dining room table, enjoying a glass of red in a warm house. Supper is herbed rice, a pint jar of green beans and fresh haddock – five minutes prep, 20 minutes cooking, two minutes clean up. Taproot magazine arrived today and thanks to long winter nights, I have plenty of reading time each evening.

 

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Snow Cover – last day of November

Snow Cover – last day of November

Snow Cover

Enough snow fell last night to bring out the plow and sand truck. We were going to get up at 3 am to drive to Molunkus Stream Camps, hunt our way to the blind at Big Field, and wait for deer. I’ve had a feeling of gloom and doom for five days and willed the alarm to remain silent. And it did, through no fault of mine. Steve woke at 6 am, unusually late for us. We got up at 3:30 Tuesday morning to hunt and were more tired than we realized. I looked out the window to beautiful snow cover, rolled over and snuggled in. Hunting this morning? No thanks.

I’m not ready for snow. Three cords of firewood still need to be moved into the high tunnel. It’s the three of the what ended up being six cords of firewood I wasn’t planning on, wasn’t prepared for, didn’t have time to deal with. But here it is and there it sits. It might still be there in the spring. The lawnmower is still sitting in front of the barn, uncovered. The bear bait barrels too heavy for me to move are still in front of the barn. We’ll get them taken care of Sunday with help from the tractor. Until then, I’m enjoying the snow cover while hoping it melts.

There are still quite a few apples for the deer. They’ve been coming every night for the apples that drop during the day. They’re also eating turnip and forage radish tops (bottom photo) in the food plot in the orchard. When muzzleloading season ends Saturday I’ll put pumpkins in the new food plot. Zoey wasn’t thrilled by the snow first thing this morning but it didn’t take long to get excited. Zomobile ran circles around Ava. Ava seems to almost not notice Zoey’s antics. Waking up to snow cover was a reminder that like it or not, winter is coming.

Healing

I’m working out a recipe for a healing salve. I took a horrid fall down a flight of stairs about two years ago. Breaking my tailbone and pelvis, tearing both rotor cuffs, and doing other damage left me aching most of the time (a major contributor to cutting back). I’m working on a salve that might help my joints. I’ll have the crockpot out today to get the steeping started. Any natural healing suggestions for aching joints and muscles?

Today’s Work

Today’s work consists of tidying up an article for a new “project.” I’ve been asked to write for a publication based in Ireland. The article has been written for a week but I’m not happy with it. The editor is wonderful. She’ll read it and pass it back to me for a rewrite. She’ll make me a better writer as she helps me slide into her publication’s style. My first article will be published in December. I’ll give you the link when it’s live. Later on I’ll be hunter in the snow cover, looking for a track to follow, one that brings me to a buck. ha  That won’t happen but I’m going to try anyway! What are you doing today?

snow cover, firewood
snow cover, crab apples,
snow cover, wild yellow apples
snow-cover-ava-zoey
snow-cover-pond
snow-cover-fence-post
snow-cover-forage-radish-food-plot

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Cutting Back and Refocusing

Cutting Back and Refocusing

Cutting Back

November lull – I love it or dread it depending on the moment. There’s little going on now that hunting seasons are just about over. The chickens, a duck and the turkeys have been butchered and frozen. The garden is done and the pile of topsoil moved to the edge of the high tunnel. There’s some “oh-my-gawd it’s going to snow and I haven’t cleaned up the lawn” work to do. I want to top off the firewood in the wood shed, fill the wood rack in the house, and replenish the stacks on the back porch. There’s not a lot left to do after that other than move some more firewood for next winter into the high tunnel.

I’m eager to get back to baking bread, hanging clothes to dry on a rack by the fire rather than sucking up electricity with the dryer, and writing. Cutting back doesn’t mean spare time. Cutting back means a little more sanity when we get through this process.

Hunting Seasons

Most of my time this month spent hunting. I put in more hours for deer than I did in September when I harvested my black bear. I saw a buck under one of our apple trees on the next to last day of rifle season. A good look at his antlers (four points) and a better look at his rump as he walked away from me and into the woods without there being an ethical shot was all I got. He was on the game camera early in the morning of the last day but didn’t show up during legal hunting time. Steve saw a buck he couldn’t get a shot at, a few does, and had a great encounter with a young doe on the last day.

Black powder? Apparently so as Steve bought me a muzzle loader.

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Sitting still day after day for weeks gives a girl a lot of time to think. I think it’s time to cut down on what I do here on the homestead, and I’m starting with food, a part of homesteading I’m most passionate about. Most of our vegetables can be grown in the high tunnel. There are a few things, like bush beans, that need to be grown outside for the sake of space. The weed problem must be conquered. I spent more time picking weeds than beans this year. Next year I’ll stick to the high tunnel and leave the rest to Shannah at Mustard Seed Farm. I have a mental list of veggies to buy from her and I’m sure there are some she’ll grow we don’t yet know we need.

Poultry

We raised seven turkeys this year. One wasn’t picked up so I roasted it for Thanksgiving. That leaves an extra 31 pound turkey in the freezer. We have two 31 pounders and another somewhere around 15 pounds. We don’t have extra chickens so I started looking around for someone to raise our meat chickens. I’ll be buying pastured chickens from my sister Melissa’s friend. We’ll also buy beef from her starting the first chance I have to pick it up. Our side of pork went to the butcher on November 25 and will be back in packages in two to three weeks. Wayne and Joe and Phoenix Rising Farm raised great pigs. I’ll cure the bacon and season the sausage for a pig and a half.

We’re keeping nine chickens and eight ducks for a total of 12 or 13 egg layers. We’ve been chicken-free for only six months of the last 18 years so it’s unlikely we’ll go without chickens or ducks. I’ll be looking for someone to tend to the birds when we want to be away overnight.

Break Out the Bon Bons!

So what happens with all this free time? Bon bons, coffee and soap operas, folks. That’s my future. hahaha I can’t even. Can’t even write that with a straight face. There are other things we’ll hire out, and I’ll talk about them next year as the times come. I’ll spend the time working full time so I can finish writing a book or two. I’m cutting back on a lot of things to make time to write something more than freelance articles and this blog. I have two half-written books to finish. They might never be read by anyone but me but the writing will be finished. House renovations are underway and I’m planning on some redecorating.

Life has been crazy. I spent too many hours hunting. Next year we’ll change up what we do to try something new. Being responsible for 100% of the housework and 95% of the cooking on top of working a full time job, and on top of homesteading work for food and heat nuts. Steve’s working full time plus and tackling some big renovation projects as well as the new food plot. There’s more but you get the idea.

“I can kill myself trying to do it all and make myself miserable with half-assed work and failure, or I can hire people to do things for me.” Robin Follette, 2016. Change is good even though decisions about cutting back are hard. If everything stayed the same life would be awfully boring.

I’ll be here more often, and with more than recipes.  There’s plenty to write about when you live a life in the wild and thanks to cutting back, I have time.

A Day of Killing – Putting Food on the Homestead Table

A Day of Killing – Putting Food on the Homestead Table

A Day of Killing

Sunday was a day of killing. Like last weekend, we killed and butchered birds we raised to feed us. Last weekend it was the Cornish Cross chickens. Yesterday we processed the broad breasted white turkeys, two older roosters, and a drake Khaki Campbell x Fawn and White Indian Runner duck. We intentionally raise turkeys for meat. The older roosters are from the first Buff Bantam Silkies that started our flock. They were older, four and a half years old, with spurs that curled completely around and started the circle again, this time starting to embed themselves in flesh.  There’s a new rooster, hatched in the spring, that takes their place. Extra males serve no purpose other than meat.

That’s a lot of turkey!

Thanksgiving, the largest of the turkeys, will be the guest of honor on Thanksgiving. Kristin, Taylor and Dad each get a turkey, and that leaves three for us. One will be frozen whole, one in pieces, and one ground for sausage. I have five backs to make soup from, something that excites me. I can’t wait to share the how-t0 and why with you. As soon as we’re ready to eat turkey after yesterday’s events, soup will be the first meal I’ll make.

An Unpleasant Day

It was an unpleasant day. Thanksgiving, also known as You Jerk, was overly friendly. He was pushy and unusually curious even for a turkey. Without hands, birds have few resources for exploring items. Thanksgiving liked to check things out up close and with his beak, and sometimes he hurt me. I won’t miss having a spot of dirt on my butt being pecked hard by a turkey I didn’t know was behind me. At the same time, I’m not happy he’s dead. We provide our meat in specific ways out of respect for the animals and their lives. We respect them whether we like their personality or not.

Vague Details of the Process

We work together efficiently on a day of killing after 15 years and hundreds of turkeys. We disinfect coolers and fill them full of cold well water. Steve lugs 20 gallons of hot water to the high tunnel where we do the butchering and puts half of it in the lobster pot over the propane burner. When the water is 145° he kills the first bird, dips it and we pluck together. When the wing feathers that hurt my arthritic hands are out he goes for the next bird while I do the fine plucking of tiny feathers.
a day of killing, plucking a turkey
a day of killing, pin feathers, turkey, broad breasted whiteWhile I finish plucking the second bird he guts the first. While he guts the second I wash the first and put it in cold water to chill. I tend to the second bird while he gets and kills bird three. And the cycle starts again.

Half way through he takes a break to give his back a rest (tall man, low table) while I clean the table. I give my back a break while he goes for the next bird, kills it, lets it bleed out, and dips it. Then we start together again. It’s important to iron out the details and work peacefully on a day of killing.

Packaging

The majority of my part in this process happens today. I do all of the packaging. Whole turkeys are wrapped in plastic wrap first and frozen in heavy plastic bags. I haven’t found vacuum bags large enough for 12 to 25 pound birds. The pieces are vacuum sealed to avoid freezer burn and save space in the freezers. I packaged up the five extra necks, and all of the hearts, livers and gizzards for Dad. I’ve cut and sealed one end of the vacuum bags for the backs but wasn’t sure of how large or small I need the rest. I will work off and on during the day and evening on this job. Water doesn’t shut down the sealer when the pieces are frozen; I freeze them for a few hours first.

Five months of work ends in three hours of killing and butchering and a few hours of packaging. It’s a lot of work but it’s well worth the effort. Healthy turkeys raised on pasture, in and out of shelter as they want during the day and closed in for their safety at night. They live a good life.