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Winter’s Middle – We’ve reached the half-way point

Winter’s Middle – We’ve reached the half-way point

Winter’s Middle

We’ve reached winter’s middle, the half-way point of the season. It finally feels like a real winter this morning. When I went out to let the ducks and chickens out, bring them water and yogurt I don’t like, and a drink of water water that will melt the ice in their indoor pan, it was 0°. Some days zero doesn’t feel bad but today it’s sharp and stinging. I thought I’d go for an early morning snowshoe through the woods to look for animal tracks but came back inside instead. I’ll see how well it warms later on this afternoon.

winters middle, february 2, groundhog's day, imbolcAs I type I’m watching a blue jay resting in the hydrangea bush, recovering from a crash into the window. It’s awfully cold to not be at their best. He breathed hard and hunkered down, and I waited for him to fall off the branch into the fresh snow. The blue jay pictures were taken through a layer of plastic over an old farmhouse window and two pains of glass. I thought they were a lot more clear than they are.
winter's middle, blue jay, February 2

Inventory Day

February 2, inventory day on the homestead. A well-stocked homestead still has at least half of its needs on this day. Firewood? Check. We have more than half of the winter’s supply and all of next year’s cut, split and partially stacked. Vegetables?  Check, but close. The absence of fresh greens and roots from the high tunnel is missed. How I’d love a fresh cut salad with spinach, tender beet greens and winter-hardy lettuces, thin slices of just-pulled carrot and turnip, and onions from the pantry… The snow and rain is washing the soil this winter. We’ll recover it when I decide the soil has had enough spring rain.

Meat? This date doesn’t apply to meat for us. The bear went into the freezer in September, the chickens and partridge in October, turkeys in November, and half a pig in December. I hope we have more than a year’s worth of meat now. I hope in the spring we add four wild turkeys (we won’t, but one or two might happen) to the larder. We won’t hunt for meat again until September when bear season opens again. We intentionally put up more than a year’s worth of meat because I’m not raising any this year.

More Daylight

Daylight is 65 minutes longer now than on Winter Solstice. It’s noticeable and welcome. The ducks started laying again late last week, first one and now two. It shouldn’t be long before there are for or five duck eggs each day, and then for a short time seven. The chickens are doing well too with none of them broody and trying to hatch straw at the moment. It’s the first time since November that there’s been a full carton and more in the fridge.

After a while the blue jay noticed me watching through the window, turned as though to say goodbye, and flew away. I think once its aches and pains are gone it’ll be just fine.

My plans for the day were changed at almost last minute so I’m going to plow through writing work. I’m attending a workshop on Saturday and have a lot of reading and critique left. This weekend’s On The Fire recipe (homemade Italian sausage) has to be written. And there’s a big piece due on Monday that I’ve only scribbled notes on so far. I wish I were at the half-way point of something in the writing work right now. Maybe by lunch!

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Icy, Snow, Sleet, Freezing Rain, Writing

Icy, Snow, Sleet, Freezing Rain, Writing

Icy Icy Icy!

Snow, sleet, freezing rain, high winds, icy everything – but minor. We didn’t lose power, dead trees are still standing, and the snowy, sleety, icy, crunchy mess isn’t too bad to walk on as long as I have cleats on my boots. WiFi is the usual lost but these days it’s out or so slow it isn’t useful (remember 28.8 on dial up? lightening fast in comparison, no exaggeration) often regardless of the weather. A few days the ground under the evergreens was bare. It looks opaque now, kind of pretty but still dull.

It’s been quiet here, hasn’t it. I’ve been writing. A lot of writing happens these days but it’s for a book. I’ve been going in circles with this book for too long. I argue and debate myself over what should and shouldn’t be included, how much detail to give, narrow or widen the focus… That’s coming to an end today when I start working with Brenda, my book coach. We’ll be working together the rest of the winter and into spring. She’ll help me find clarity and focus today, and then I’ll spend the next two weeks working away, asking for help, direction and advice when needed, and preparing for our next session.

Out of Sorts

I’m a little out of sorts without a big seed order to put together, seeds to start in a couple of weeks, no high tunnel providing fresh greens, and too little outdoors time. The amount of hate (I won’t get political) being spewed is unsettling while women who aren’t affected by certain issues attack women who are. You’ve probably heard me talk about hunter vs hunter and outdoorsmen vs outdoorsmen. That’s mild in comparison. This isn’t Right vs Left. It’s woman vs woman. Politicians had nothing on this venom.

Fun Times Coming!

With this in mind, I have fun things with good people to look forward to. Carol and I are going to snowshoe as soon as the icy trails are suitable. I’m looking forward to some girlfriend time with her, laughing and visiting outdoors. I have a weekend of ice fishing coming up and I’m planning a camping trip for early summer. I’ll be hanging out with wonderful women in July when I make the trip back to Pyramid Life Center for a poetry weekend with Cynthia that moves directly into the women’s writing retreat I’ve loved for three years.

I’m off to put away the folded laundry that’s stacked on the loveseat, push the button on the Ninja for a fresh cuppa, and gather my writing things together. The icy weather will keep me in by the fire for the rest of the day. I’ll be on the loveseat if you want to chat. Comments are open and I’ll be checking in except for 1-2 pm EST when I’m hanging out with Brenda.

Icy raspberry cane

icy, coating of ice off a tree branch
icy lichen
icy spruce
icicles, metal roof, icy

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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Snow Keeps Our Floors Warmer

Snow Keeps Our Floors Warmer

Snow Keeps Our Floors Warmer

When it comes to snow I want none or a minimum of two feet on the ground. Snow keeps our floors warmer. It does. Seriously. Snow is a good insulator. When the snow drifts against the house it serves as insulation around the foundation. This old house has a field stone foundation for the cellar that lets cold air in. The floors, especially the tile in the dining room, are freezing cold under foot even when our feet are sporting nice wool socks. Snow banks the foundation and keeps the entire house warmer. We’ve barely burned any wood so far this winter.

The north side of the house seldom has a snow to bank the foundation. The roof doesn’t pitch that way so snow doesn’t fall off and pile up there. The northeast corner doesn’t have enough accumulation, either. Wind blows through the clear space between the house and trees, blowing the snow away. Steve felled a balsam tree when I was getting ready to make wreaths in November to be sure I had enough tips. He chose a big tree in a spot he plans to clear to expand the food plot in the spring. I snapped the best tips to make wreaths and later went back with pruners to lop off the entire length of each bough.snow keeps our floors warmer, banking, snow, foundation

On a warm (perspective; it was 35°) December afternoon I pressed the boughs against the snowless foundation, tucking branches into other boughs to keep them from springing away. It snowed the next day and as the wind blew it trapped the snow in the boughs instead of blowing it away. Nature’s insulation is free except for an hour or two of work.

When spring arrives some time in April I’ll pull back the boughs, pile them back into the tractor’s bucket, and move them to the burn pile. Snow keeps our floors warmer and then the boughs keep our hearts warm with the first fire of spring.

 

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.

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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Snowy Food Plots and White-tailed Deer

Snowy Food Plots and White-tailed Deer

Snowy Food Plots

We’ve been waiting for snowy food plots to learn how to the wildlife will react to the food we’ve provided. There are turnip and radish tops above snow but as you can see, the deer are pawing through the snow to get to grass. Unfortunately we don’t know what kind of grass seed was in the seed mix.

snowy food plot, white-tailed deer, Maine, food plots in winter
snowy food plots, deer, deer in winter food plots

snowy food plots, snowshoe hare tracks in snowThe deer have flattened one food plot, their favorite, and moved into the larger plot behind the house. The smaller plot was full of kale and oats, apparently the does and fawns’ favorites. They ate the seed heads from the oats and the leaves from the kale, leaving the kale ribs standing. Most of the ribs and oat plants are gone now. Now that we have snowy food plots the deer paw through the snow to get to food. They seem to favor grass over turnip and forage radish tops. When the grass is gone we expect them to pull up the turnip and radish roots. The roots they miss will die and improve the soil.

The short-antlered buck was here. It’s always good to see the bucks. Splay, the big old doe that’s fat and round looks like she’s packed on enough calories to last two winters. Good for her!

Snowshoe Hares

There are a lot of snowshoe hares this year. Remember the kits? I find their tracks near the wood yard. It’s easy to tell them from the others because they’re much smaller. The tracks above are from an adult hare. Hares are in the snowy food plots eating tops off turnip and a little grass. None of the animals want anything to do with pumpkins yet. That’s unusual. Maybe they’ll be the last thing eaten before the deer move on to their winter feeding grounds.

I hope to harvest one or two hares before the season closes at the end of March. They’re hard on the fruit trees in winter and the garden in summer. While I won’t be growing an outdoor garden, they can ruin the food plot as the tender shoots pop up. I’ll be looking for hares in the food plot only, not going into the woods to find them. I doubt I could find them without a hound and Zoey’s ears turn off when she’s behind a hare. She doesn’t hear a word we say yell.

Elsewhere on the homestead

I’ve made one wreath so far. I’ll make more today, finish decorating the tree that I haven’t told you about yet, and make a soup for supper. I haven’t been to the freezer yet. I’m going with whatever suitable soup meat I see first being the kind of soup I make. It could be caribou thanks to most generous Cristina, turkey or chicken we raised, or moose thanks to a friend who hit a moose. I wish I were baking bread today but since we still have half of a sour dough seven grain loaf there’s no need to bake.

What’s happening at your place today?

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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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Wooly Bear Predicts Winter – Or Does He?

Wooly Bear Predicts Winter – Or Does He?

Woolly Bear Predicts Winter?

This woolly bear predicted a cold snowy winter for 2015/16. So did Farmers Almanac. We had cold weather because this is Maine and you know…winter. We had little snow though, never enough at once to snowshoe in the woods and deep enough for the snowmobiles only one weekend. About half the normal 100 inches of snow fell. There were a few days below 0° but there were more days in the 40°s and 50°s than 0°.

Oh Woolly Bear! How did he get it so wrong?

winter predictions, 2016, 2017, woolly bear, caterpillar

Genetics and environment determine the woolly bear’s looks. The better its diet and longer it’s been eating the narrower its orange band will be. Woolly bear tells us about its diet and genetics, not the weather. The one in the photo must have been eating well. I can related to that. The more I eat the wider my middle gets.

Does Nature Predict Winter?

I love folk lore. The ground hog? I’m amused by grown men (who might be drinking heavily because why else would they do this) who pull a ground hog out of a box, shine lights in its sleepy eyes, and expect it to see or not see its shadow. Six more weeks of winter? Boooo. Same six weeks until spring? Yeah!

Are the wasp and hornet nests high or low? Find them and you’ll know how much snow we’ll have.

Are the geese heading south early? (Or have you, like I tend to do, forgotten when it is they usually leave?)

Look at the pigs. Are they gathering sticks? Heavy winter if they are, or they like to play with sticks.

Lots of pine and spruce cones in the tops of the trees tell us there’s going to be a harsh winter…or mild winter. Two winters ago the trees were loaded and winter was horrible. Last year the trees were loaded and winter was mild. Flip a cone. Or a cone.

Nature reliably predicts winter…except when it doesn’t. It’s still fun.

What folk lore stories do you enjoy?

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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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