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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

Thinking Ahead: 2017

Thinking Ahead: 2017

Thinking Ahead: 2017

Thinking ahead is one of my favorite things. It’s a lot like day dreaming.

thinking aheadThere are a few things I’m planning to do in 2017. Not resolution type things (I have a couple of those but that’s not what this is about) but more of a to-do list crossed with things I want. Thinking ahead is fun when plans are for things that make a life in the wild nicer.

Mason Bees

Thinking ahead is something I’ve been good at with bees. They’ve been on my want list for a long time. We like honey and some of the fruit trees don’t get pollinated well now that the wild honey bees have vanished. Steve hates bees and they know it. I think 2016 was the first year in at least a decade that he didn’t get stung by a bee, wasp or hornet. I’m on my own with bees so I’ve taken my time learning about them and their care. Start up runs around $500. Two weeks ago I decided I can buy a lot of honey for $500 and save myself the work (I’m cutting back, remember) and the headache of dealing with bears. I’ll be looking for places to buy mason bees and local honey.

Pretty-Up the Hen House

There’s a story to the hen house that I should tell you. The current story is that the hen house is ugly as sin. It bugs me. A lot. It needs a new coat of paint. For reasons I don’t know, the hens peck at the fresh paint until they’ve stripped all of the wood they can reach of its shiny red paint, leaving behind bare wood. Not wanting to settle for slapping a coat of paint on it, I’ve held out until I can put up the siding I want and replace the windows and door.

Observation Hut

The popup was taken down when the snow got too heavy and the time spent there is missed.
thinking ahead, 2017, popup, hunting, blind, camo blind, Ameristep blindHunting huts at Peter’s double as observation huts eleven months out of the year. Speaking of hunting, here’s a hunting story, in less than a minute. You’re welcome. As an outdoors write I crave outdoors writing time but when it’s too cold, windy, buggy or raining I don’t like to sit out there to write. Paper and laptops don’t do well in uncomfortable weather. We’re going to build a hunt that sits four feet off the ground, has windows on three sides and a door on the fourth. I’ll be able to work there while watching the wildlife. For the coldest days we’ll have a small heater.

Make More Cheese

One of my favorite foods is cheese. Good cheese. Not that I won’t eat a slice of American “cheese” now and then but turn me loose in Boston Public Market where I can find a hundred different real cheeses and I’m a happy girl. “How well does this melt?” “What is this farm like?” I’ll soon be cooking with a cheddar I bought at the market. Steve bought me a new smoker because I’ve outgrown our little one. I want to make and smoke cheeses.

Learn to Tan Hides

Having a hide tanned can be expensive. I want to learn how to do a small hide or two; a problem raccoon or ermine/short-tailed weasel, snowshoe hare…

More Creativity

thinking ahead, 2017, homesteading, American goldfinch, winterAnother of the things I’ll do in 2017 involves creativity. I got out of the habit of taking photography rides, bouncing along backwoods roads with three cameras on the seat beside me. Steve took me on a couple of rides to find moose in November, reminders of how much I enjoy photography, and a realization of how little I missed it because I was too busy to notice. I have some nature craft ideas I’d like to try out.

Camp in Baxter State Park

To get the photos of moose I want to take at Sandy Stream Pond, I need to be at the pond before sunrise. The gates don’t open until after sunrise and then it’s more than an hour to drive into the campground, park, sign in, and hike the four-tenths of a mile to the pond. Taking pen and paper with me will give me time to write while I’m waiting for the moose and deer. I’m going to camp at least two nights there.  Cabin, lean-to or tent? That hasn’t been decided yet.

More Writing for Myself

I’ve mentioned this before and now it’s well underway. Working with Walden Publishing has been wonderful. Cleo will mold me into a better writer through her feedback and calls for rewrites. It’s been a strong reminder of what freelance writing should be, and that makes me happy.

There are two writing workshops in February and March to attend, and I’m watching to see who’s instructing at Black Fly Writing Retreat. The women’s writing retreat is also on my list. Finishing the book and spending time here in the blog are at the top of my list.

What are you planning to do in 2017? If you’ve written a blog entry about it please drop a link in the comments. If not, still tell us what you’re doing. It’s nice to share ideas that might spark an idea in someone else.

 

Dear Winter – You Arrived Early

Dear Winter – You Arrived Early

Dear Winter

Dear Winter,

I don’t mean to be rude but in the woodsyou were early and consequently, I wasn’t fully ready for you. Of course I knew you were on your way but I was hoping you’d be right on time. Oh, I’m ready in some ways. The firewood is in, shelves full of food, and freezers filled to over flowing. We’ve worked hard to fill the larder.

Still, you were early. Early cold, snow and ice I wasn’t ready for but here it is and so I’ll make the best of it. Early ice on lakes and ponds means early ice fishing, a good thing. You were supposed to arrive today, not two weeks ago. It was -18°F this morning, more like mid or late January than December 20th. Steve got up first to start coffee and stir the coals. He added birch logs to the glowing red coals and the bark caught fire quickly. The click click click of the wood stove expanding and beep beep beep of the coffee maker signaling the readiness of its black gold were enough to coax me out of a warm bed.

Happy Solstice

You decorated well for the occasion. A six-inch blanket of snow, crusty with a little fluff for beauty, covers the ground except under some of the evergreen trees. Icicles hang from the porch, barn and hen house roofs. I worry about the snow and icicles falling from the hen house roof and hurting one of the birds but so far so good.

A few of the deer still come to the food plot at night. Snowshoe hares dig up turnip greens at the edge of the plot, staying close to the woods for safety. There are no signs of coyotes or bobcats around the homestead and as long as you, dear Winter, don’t throw a lot of snow tantrums, at least the bobcats will stay away.

Feeding Birds

Your early arrival brought Evening grosbeaks, redpolls, mourning doves, chickadees, blue jays, red breasted nuthatches, American goldfinches and Juncos to the feeders in droves. Woodpeckers – downy and hairy – are at the suet and energy blocks on and off all day. Pileated woodpeckers bang away at the trees along the rock wall in search of grubs. I keep the feeders filled, hang fresh suet when needed, and toss out scraps of homemade bread that the blue jays especially like.

Creativity

I’m not entirely upset about your early arrival, my dear Winter. I do love you and the downtime you bring with you. I’ve been writing more and thinking of things I want to do this winter. Maybe I’ll really pick up the pencils and sketch pad I bought myself two years ago. Since my mind spins these days I’m often up, showered, coffee made and at my desk to write by 4 am. The full moon on the snow eliminates the need for lights as I move through the house in what some folks consider the middle of the night. I watch the bright moon move through the crisp, clear sky and say goodbye as it sets. Hours. It takes hours, and that’s exactly how much time I’ve been spending in creativity these days.

So, dear Winter, while you were early and I was and wasn’t ready, you are welcome.
black-capped chickadee, chickadee, dear winterdear winter


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Hybrid Seeds – A Few Things You Should Know

Hybrid Seeds – A Few Things You Should Know

Hybrid Seeds

I’m surprised by a few things when it comes to gardening. First, the lack of understanding in hybrid versus heirloom seeds. Hybrids are sometimes made out to be the villain of gardening. Second, the thought that USDA Hardiness Zones are “grow zones.” That one makes my eyes bug out. Rolling eyes are insulting and I’m probably guilty of doing it when I hear or read “grow zones.” Third, the unwillingness to start a garden before a specific date regardless of what the gardener is growing and the weather conditions. We’ll talk about that one later in the winter. Today we’re going to talk about hybrid seeds.

Can You Save Seeds From Hybrid Fruits and Vegetables?

You can save seeds from hybrids and the plants will most likely produce. You won’t get the same fruit or vegetable but you’ll get something. It might be delicious and it will at least be interesting to see the end result. The result will be a cross between the parents, and if the parents are hybrids their parents’ influence might show up in the end vegetable. You know those tomato volunteers that pop up in the spring? There you go.

hybrid seeds, cross pollination, heirloom seeds, open pollinated seeds
Hybrids are Tasteless, Right?

Do hybrid seeds grow tasteless food? Some certainly do, but so do some open pollinated and heirloom seeds. Open pollinated doesn’t mean heirloom and heirloom doesn’t mean open pollinated, by the way. Heirloom doesn’t have one specific definition. They’re varieties handed down through generations or age dependent. Some people consider a variety an heirloom once it’s been stable for 25 or 50 years. Open pollinated generally means the seeds will breed true – you’ll get the same fruit or vegetable every time.

Can you tell whether these seedlings are hybrid, open pollinated or heirloom? No, me either.

Hybrids are Not Genetically Engineered

Hybrids are the result of cross pollination.  Birds, bees, butterflies and other pollinators cross-pollinate blossoms. Pollen floats on the wind and causes cross pollination. I wish I knew what apples crossed to create the ornamental variety growing at the edge of the road. Had I know that’s what it is before the tree was too big to move I’d have put it in a better spot. The apples look like clusters of cherries.

hybrid seeds, bees pollinate plants, bees, cross pollinationYou can cross pollinate plants easily with a paint brush, your finger, or by pulling one flower off to brush its pollen onto another flower. It’s not the same as genetically engineering a daffodil gene into rice (to increase Vitamin A, this is impossible naturally), or a gene from a firefly into a fish (to glow in the dark, sold as pets) or a nut gene into another food (imagine what this could do to someone with a nut allergy).

Genetic engineering happens only in a laboratory. That’s a simple way to keep the difference between the two straight.

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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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.

4

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.

November First on the Homestead

November First on the Homestead

November First on the Homestead

The kitchen is cool, almost cold in the morning now. November first dawned in the 20°s, feeling more like December. Sourdough bread spent the night in its first rise in the coldest corner of the kitchen. Poke poke poke. I dumped the flattening dough from the bowl into a bread pan and pushed it aside to rise for the day.

After coffee, chores, and then a breakfast of homemade bread toasted on cast iron, an Autumn spiced bear sausage patty and a duck egg, I spent a little time preparing the rest of supper. Butternut squash soup with Linguica sausage and the sourdough white wheat bread. Peeled, cut up, chicken stock, pan fried the sausage to release some fat and improve flavor, tossed together in the crock pot to simmer. And then off to lunch with a dear friend I’ve missed.

november first, homestead, butternut squash soup, linguicahomemade bread, november first, deer huntingDeer season (rifle) opened Saturday, a few days earlier than what used to be November first. Steve and I spent the morning and evening on a ridge looking for a buck we chased on closing day last year. He wasn’t registered so unless Mother Nature got him, or the hunter who fired a shot that echoed between two ridges and down into a valley found him, he’s out there. You couldn’t prove it by us. We found tracks big enough to be a buck but that’s all we saw.

ridge, deer hunting, november first, autumn colorsNovember first, birch trees, autumn, foliage, November, deer hunting

Butchering Day

Sunday was on of those days I dread and look forward to. I dread the killing and butchering of the meat chickens but I look forward to excellent meat from happy, well-raised chickens, and to having the job done. Chicken wise it was the worst year ever. More mortality than ten years normally put together. Started with 32 chickens, butchered 21, couldn’t use the meat from one because it had some sort of yuck of which I’ll spare you the details. The turkeys’ day comes this Sunday.

Loss

Steve put down an injured runner duck. She was seven or eight or nine years old and still in excellent health but mortally wounded. She was already shivering in the cold. Can’t have her freeze to death this winter. She survived a bobcat attack many years ago. She didn’t lay many eggs anymore and she absolutely didn’t want to be touch but she was still a valuable part of our homestead. She made us smile. Her two sisters spent November first looking for and quacking to her.

new moon, november firstCoyote Problems

I’m distracted early in the morning and again late in the afternoon each day but Sunday by coyotes. They’ve been in the backyard, around the hen house and meat chicken pen, and even on the porch. Finding their wet paw prints on the porch is annoying and uncomfortable. They shouldn’t be this comfortable being close to the house with us and two dogs here. I’ve been sitting in a popup ground blind, calling like a screaming jack rabbit (which makes me want to shoot the speaker after 30 seconds) and a howling coyote. So far no good. They show up a half hour before and after legal shooting time. We can’t night hunt them again until mid-December when the last deer hunting season closes.

I’m hoping the November first new moon brings change in deer movement and opportunities to rid the neighborhood of the coyotes. It’s time they went back into the woods and away from the few homes on our road.

November first already. Where did this year go?

What Does it Feel Like to Kill a Chicken?

What Does it Feel Like to Kill a Chicken?

What Does it Feel Like to Kill a Chicken?

“What does it feel like to kill a chicken,” she asked. It’s been a deathly day, starting with two mice in a bucket in the garden shed. They couldn’t get out and made for a good opportunity to teach Zoey more about rodent killing. She’s a great huntress but not a good killer. A red squirrel made it into the house and onto the kill list today. Not sure I’ll get it today but the peanut butter bait is set (outside!) and the pellet gun is loaded and waiting.

What does it feel like to kill a chicken. I had to think about it. I don’t do it often, avoiding it when possible. Yes, I can, but if Steve is here when one is mortally injured, or it’s time to kill meat chickens, he does it. Today, he’s not here and the chicken couldn’t be allowed to suffer.

Chopping Block

The old chopping block is gone. I found two tall screws and a hammer and set up the block. When the screws were an inch and a half apart and the cover was off the hatchet, I went for the chicken. What does it feel like to kill a chicken…

what does it feel like to kill a chicken, chopping block

He wheezed, its comb no longer the bright blood red it should have been because of oxygen deprivation. Each breath was a struggle. Breath in, sides heaving, wheeze out. Was that a drop of liquid in its beak? The bird had pneumonia. Still fit to eat, today had to be the day for its sake and ours.

I tucked him under my left arm and thanked him for feeding us. This bird didn’t “give its life to feed us.” It didn’t give us its life. I took its life. I killed it. So bird, thank you for feeding us. I am indeed sorry it didn’t live two more weeks like the others will. Well, all but one other. It’s wheezing a little and probably won’t get better.

what does it feel like to kill a chicken, pneumonia, cornish cross

Tucked under my arm and thanked, I kept the Cornish Cross rooster calm. Its feet gently but firmly grasped by my left hand so it couldn’t scratch me if it decided to try to escape, it felt secure. I bent to pick up the hatchet while hanging the rooster upside down by its legs. Flap flap flap…three times, and then it calmly hung upside down, trusting me because I’ve been feeding and watering and tending it since it was three days old. This chicken had no thoughts of “I’m going to die.”

The Chop

I laid the breast, neck and head of the bird across the log, wedging its head between the screws to keep it secure. What does it feel like to kill a chicken, I thought as I raised the hatchet, pulled gently back on the bird’s legs to stretch its neck out straight, lined up the hatchet to land a half-inch behind the screws, closed my eyes and dropped my arm in a fast, hard swoop. With the thump of the hatchet hitting the log a split second later I opened my eyes to see what I’ve done, to be sure I’ve killed the bird instantly.

No suffering. I held the bird until the flapping stopped, maybe six or seven flaps, and watched blood pour from its neck. No suffering. When it was still and the blood stopped pouring, I laid the bird out on the log.

what does it feel like to kill a chicken, chopping block, blood

what does it feel like to kill a chicken, chicken chopping block

Killing a chicken feels like something I can’t over think. If I think about the steps of what I’m about to do I will talk myself out of it. It feels necessary but still heavy on my heart. It feels like a burden on my mind. There’s a sense of control when the bird is firmly in my left hand. A swift downward swing, as though I am swatting hard at a fly, followed by an immediate thump when the blade severs the head and then hits the log. Motion in my left arm as I’m holding the flapping bird, but it’s not heavy. The five pound bird feels light because I’ve lifted and thrown three cords of firewood – twice – and have strong arm muscles.

Burdensome

Mindful. It feels mindful, intentional and deliberate. It’s a burden. And then it’s over and it feels like relief. The bird isn’t suffering in life and didn’t suffer in death.

We don’t normally eat chicken for a couple of weeks after slaughtering day but this is different. I already have a chicken out of the freezer and fully thawed for tonight’s supper, and I will eat it. These chickens that we raise have great lives on pasture, grass and garden. They eat bugs and weed seeds, grass and clover, and take dust baths. These birds see the sun, the full moon, and the rain. They feel the wind blowing. If we didn’t raise these birds to eat they wouldn’t have a life at all. It feels like I’ve given them a good life and a swift, painless death, and it feels good to feel my family humanely.

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Winter Preparations – Working Toward a Comfortable Winter

Winter Preparations – Working Toward a Comfortable Winter

Winter Preparations

Winter preparations have started. It feels like we must be far behind because here it is early October and we haven’t touched a stick of firewood. Steve dropped a few big trees in the new food plot over the summer, and he dragged them to the field between the high tunnels, but there they sit. He cut and I split and stacked this winter’s firewood last year. I thought I’d do next year’s this year but the majority of it is going to wait until spring. Using the empty high tunnel to dry and store firewood has been one of the best things we’ve done here. It’s warm, the air flows well and the wood dries fast.

What’s on the winter prep list?

  • Move firewood
  • Split firewood for winter 17/18
  • Harvest a deer or two
  • Process the meat chickens and one duck in early November
  • Process the turkeys the weekend before Thanksgiving (or sooner if the jerks won’t say in their pen)
  • Cover the basement windows with insulation
  • Frame the new raised beds in the high tunnel
  • Move the topsoil I decided to hold off on (horrid weed problem) into the new raised beds
  • Muck the hen house
  • Cover the hen house windows with poly

There’s a bear in the freezer now, lots of preserves put up, veggies, mushrooms and fruits frozen, and herbs and hot peppers dehydrated.

Firewood

Out of everything on the list I like firewood the best. This is this winter’s wood. It was cut, split and stacked to dry in the high tunnel last year. It’s lightweight now and won’t take a lot of effort to move five cords into the wood shed, onto the back porch, and fill the rack in the living room. There’s something about the mindless repetition of firewood that appeals to me. Pick it up, put it on the splitter, pull the lever to split the wood, wait, grab the top piece with one hand and flip the bottom piece with the other hand, pull the lever, wait, let the split wood drop, drop the top piece onto the cold metal frame, pull the lever, throw those two pieces into the stack. Mindless but mindful at the same time. One wrong move can send me to the ER (once) or the doctor (once). Being careful and mindful while letting my mind wander is a good thing. I get a lot of damned good writing done in my head while I’m splitting firewood that unfortunately usually doesn’t make it to paper or laptop before it’s mostly forgotten.

winter preparations, firewood, high tunnel

Poultry

As much as I won’t enjoy slaughtering and butchering the chickens and turkeys, I’m ready for it. They’ve lived good lives on grass and soil, taking dust baths under the sun on 70° October days, eating grasshoppers and weed seeds. The turkeys have learned how to trample down the side of their electronet fence and are wandering all over the place. I sent a pic of seven wandering turkeys and a text to Steve that said “they better taste good” this afternoon. I used the tractor’s bucket and a chain to move the hog panels, and I’ll put them back up near the hen house. That will keep them contained…unless they realize they can fly over, and then I’ll clip their wings. I don’t remember turkeys ever being such a pain as these seven, not even when we had 25 or more at a time.

winter preparations, English Shepherd, broad breasted white turkeysThe meat chickens are manure machines that fertilize the lawn and part of the garden, their tractor having to be moved daily even if they’re in it only overnight. They’re going to continue to live good lives until early November for the chickens and the Sunday before Thanksgiving for the turkeys.

Propane was delivered this week. We have a small hot air, propane fired furnace in the basement for back up when we’re not at home to fill the wood stove, or like this fall when it’s really too warm for a fire but too cool to not have some sort of heat. We’re used to $600 a year for propane to heat our hot water and occasionally run that furnace. The bill today was $115 for two months. That can’t happen again in October. That’s craziness.

Winter Preparations?

I’m more physically prepared for winter than I am mentally. I want it to stay just like the last three days – warm and dry, sunny and breezy, cold enough in the morning for a fire that burns hot and fast for an hour to take out the chill – for the next 364 days…or until I decide I want it to be colder. The new moon and clear sky of autumn are incredible. The gazillion stars at night are stunning. The constellations are easy to see on these gorgeous nights. Winter preparations are time and work well spent while I spend these gorgeous autumn days outdoors.

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Homesteading Today – September 29, 2016

Homesteading Today – September 29, 2016

Homesteading Today – September 29

There are a million things to do in this house – scrub the toilet, lug ripped out wallboard from the bedroom to trash bins outside, vacuum and wash floors, back screws out of 2 x 4’s – and little of it will get done. I’ll deal with the screws and wallboard, the rest will wait. It’s too nice outside to be indoors. I thought I’d bring you with me through homesteading today.

The Poultry Shuffle

The perfect music for The Poultry Shuffle was already playing when I went out this morning. A young white throated sparrow that hasn’t migrated yet tested his not-quite-perfect ability to sing. They’re one of the first birds that make my head snap in their direction in the spring and it’s nice to hear them before they leave in the fall.

The meat birds, 25 Cornish Rock Cross, need more room than their 4′ x 8′ tractor allows them. I took the smaller mesh electro-fence from the turkeys, ducks and Silkie chickens and shuffled it over to the meat birds’ area. I won’t have to move them once or twice a day now. The 160 foot long roll of fencing gives them plenty of room to eat grass, weed seeds and insects for a few days. They haven’t yet discovered the freshly tilled soil in the garden but when they do the soil will fly as they learn how easy it is to dust bathe there rather than on grass.

Silkies and Runner ducks slip through the large mess of the second fence so I have to keep an eye on them. Ava and Zoey spend most of the day outside to help deter predators. There are three raccoons hanging around but not until it starts to get dark.

(Update since I started writing: A Cooper’s hawk killed one of the meat birds while Ava was herding a wayward duck back to the pen. Bastard.)
Cornish cross, meat chicken, hawk attack

Autumn Decorating

Not one bit of autumn decorating has been done this fall. I cut the cornstalks, bundled them, and tied them to posts on the porch. Frost is weeks late this year, we haven’t had one yet. The hydrangea are a gorgeous mauve. I hope it doesn’t fade as they dry. Homesteading today is a mix of death and beauty, typical for this lifestyle.

hydrangea, homesteading today

warty gourds, homesteading today

I cut the Warty gourds, Wee Be Little pumpkins and Butternut winter squash, and cleaned up the vines. The last of the tomatoes minus a Juliet plant that’s still doing well added up to a half bushel, and those vines were cleaned up. They’re dying on the garden, waiting to be rototilled into the soil. The bushel of gourds were grown in a 30″ circle in the high tunnel. Easy peasy and worth doing again next year. The winter squash didn’t fare as well but I’ll give it another try in a tunnel next year with a few changes.

The still unidentified hot peppers and Bell peppers haven’t been pulled yet. Maybe Friday, or maybe I’ll put a low tunnel over them for a while. I want more peppers but I’m over gardening for the year. I’m ready to settle in to write, missing writing terribly, and want to be done with just about everything.

Where the Wild Things Are

The beavers are still around out back. The water is low but they’re checking the muddy dam and patting it down on a regular basis. I’m learning to love the land we own. It’s a long process that I’ll talk about later.
beaver lodge, homesteading today
beaver tracks, homesteading todayDon’t forget the young bull moose that’s pics I shared yesterday.

It feels like we’ll have frost overnight so I cut the lemon balm, sage, two varieties of basil, and oregano, and put them in the dehydrator. There’s mint still to cut but it’s frost hardy, fortunate since the dehydrator is full. Sage, thyme, basil and oregano are still growing in the high tunnel, at least until we take the poly off and cold gets to them.

To Do Lists

My list for the day was unrealistically long even if I hadn’t been dealing with the hawk. I’ll work on it again tomorrow. Such is the life. Homesteading today carries into tomorrow, into the next day, and continues on because the to list changes but never ends. I wouldn’t trade it for the lifestyle we left behind in 1989.