It's like a slow-coming tsunami that's now crashing in over my kitchen, as if the Earth trembled under the garden and lifted beans, cucumbers, cabbages and squash to flood the counters. Between now and say, late October, hundreds of empty jars will be brought out from storage and filled with pickles, sauerkraut, apple sauce and salsa, and tucked away for winter. From then on we'll bring those jars from our root cellar back up onto the counters and feast on the stored garden bounty long into next summer.
It's a task, to bring the harvest from our gardens in and put it up in ways that will preserve it. Pretty much every day for the next couple of months I'll spend part of the day filling our cellar back up, one way or another, whether it's chopping cabbage for kraut, picking apples, sorting storing pears, drying herbs, packing carrots or canning tomatoes. I know what it takes, but I also know what I get. Last year Dennis and I went through several months in the depth of winter and spent less than $50 on food. Still, we had unlimited access to better, fresher and more food than ever before in our lives.
Questions About a Self-Sufficient Lifestyle
One of the most frequent questions we get on this self-sufficient lifestyle is if it's not a lot of work. Often it comes as a comment “This must be so much work.” Many have admitted to me that they once canned and stored put food away for the winter but found it to be too much work, so they stopped and now rely on stores for their grocery needs.
When I first came to Maine, Dennis and I also depended on the store for our food and the lumber yard for most of our building materials. Throughout the summer and fall we ate from our garden but the rest of the year we stopped at the grocery store about once a week and usually bought one head of cabbage, one bag of carrots, a rutabega, potatoes and a weekly splurge, like celery or a squash. The rest of our diet was rice, beans and oats that we bought in bulk through a buying club. On Sundays we usually went to visit Dennis' family and treated ourselves with a to-go coffee from the gas station.
This was our way, a strategy, to get to where we are now. By turning every dime we could afford not to have a paying job and instead stay at home and work to achieve the Hostel and our viable homestead. By also staying away from debt and instead having the patience and prevalence to go through years of scraping by, we eventually we came ahead, and now we still can work at home and have all the rewards that money could, or couldn't buy.
And me, I no longer talk about how much work it is – I'd like to talk about the rewards, that far outweighs the labor. Faced with the task of harvesting food, milling lumber, cutting firewood or any other chore we do, we do it with our gaze set on the outcome. For each passing year we're working out systems that allow tasks to be executed with as little work as possible, for example how to process food in a time efficient manner, prevent weeds before they start to grow, how to plant the garden in the spring and put it to bed in the fall. That too is a thresh hold we've climbed, Dennis and I. With patience and prevalence we've overcome some of the homesteading hurdles and can now take on the year to year tasks knowing that we can get it done in a quick and satisfying way.
As homesteaders, all the rewards are directly ours to keep and compared with the time and labor invested the return is very high, and for every year, increasing. Our work provides most of our necessities but the multiple returns we get from our homestead also give us what money couldn't buy, such as the self reliance, sense of security, dignity, the beautiful place where we spend our days and the choice to set our own schedule. Since we have no debt, we can navigate outside a system where, due to how general finances, mortgages, credits and corporations function, most people will never break even or come ahead.
To talk about the rewards when others talk about the workload is also a way for me to say that living of the land, doing physical work, growing food and pursuing a path of simplicity is possible and positive. It's a way to look beyond the hurdles and the issues and to see the beauty of the garden, the gratitude from our Hostel guests, the year round abundance of food and the viable and righteous lifestyle it offers.
Monday, September 1st: Labor Day
Monday’s work day was somewhat abbreviated due to Labor Day, which was a nice surprise. This week, my morning chore was to work with the turkeys and the hens at the Feathernet, which I enjoy doing. To refresh your memory, the turkeys get moved every two days and the Feathernet gets moved every three. On days where the birds do not get moved, we usually set up nets for the next day’s move along with feeding and giving the birds their grit.
After breakfast, we split up to do different projects and interns Greer, Will and I went with Daniel Salatin to one of the rental farms to modify their water system. Our objective was to dig a trench into one of the farm ponds, making it deep enough where we could pump out clean water (If the area is to shallow, you get dirt and muck in your water.) and close enough where the pump hose could reach it. Polyface has a digging attachment they can stick on one of the tractors, which was fun to watch. We ended up getting the afternoon off and while most people went to shoot skeet, I went to a coffee shop to upload my blog. :)
Tuesday, September 2nd
Tuesday morning, we fed the turkeys and moved the Feathernet. We were moving them across a farm road, which was a slightly longer distance than the birds are used to, so the move took a little bit longer than I’m sure they’re used to.
After a quick breakfast, intern Josh and I did buying club load up, which you may remember from other blog posts that I enjoy. Polyface had run a sale on turkeys and with it being back to school, a lot of people tend to start stocking up on food for the year. This weeks load up was pretty big and took us until lunch to assemble and put away in the freezers. We spent the rest of the day at one of Polyface’s rental farms sorting cows and moving them to different pasture. We needed to assemble ten cows to send to slaughter and check on the calves and their mothers, which we were able to do all at once. My job in the sort was to man the gate and Daniel would call out if he wanted a certain cow or not as he directed parts of the herd to this corral I was managing. You have to be alert when sorting cows because when one that you don’t want squeaks in through the gate, it is a pain for Daniel to have to go in and sort it out. The move and sort went really well and we had a lot of nice looking animals to choose from.
Wednesday, September 3rd
After chores, we interns assembled for the long anticipated slaughterhouse (or abattoir if you prefer) tour. I had never been to a slaughterhouse, so I was a little nervous about what to expect. We interns had all been wanting to go, as we’ve assembled many a trailer of animals to send to this plant and we knew that once things started to slow down a bit at the farm, we would get the chance to go. I would like to report that I was pleasantly surprised. I was expecting to feel grossed out or at the very least overstimulated, but I felt neither. The facility was incredibly clean and organized with an emphasis on creating a low stress environment for the animals. On the day we went, the staff was processing some of the Polyface cows, which was very impactful for me. This was my first chance to see the whole cycle as it relates to the cattle. I had sorted these cows with Daniel and intern Brandon the day before and here they were for all of us to see.
If you had asked me even a year ago if I ever thought going to a slaughterhouse wouldn’t be an entirely unpleasant experience for me, I would have looked at you like you were crazy. Until this summer, my impression of such enterprises had been influenced by the media and pro-vegetarian documentaries, where I thought of slaughterhouses as dirty, foul, dark places where animals suffer and are brutally killed, which is part of the reason why Polyface’s outdoor poultry processing operation was so intriguing to me initially, but this is not what this slaughterhouse was like. I know from first hand observation that that the owners and the staff of this abattoir want a low stress environment for the animals. If I may, I’d like to explain why I now think more favorably of other smaller slaughterhouses without having seen them. In my own extrapolation, having worked with livestock this summer, stressed out animals are harder to handle, work with and be around. It only makes sense to me that other slaughterhouses follow similar humane handling practices. Besides the emotional benefits for all involved, humane handling is more efficient, thus more profitable. I’m sure there are outliers, but for the most part, I’d like to give small to mid-size slaughterhouses the benefit of the doubt. Plus, they need an inspector present for USDA certification and you can be sure avoiding the wrath of the USDA is a priority for these businesses. It would be for me. But I digress.
That night, some of the interns and Eric, our apprentice manager, collected stewing hens for chicken processing tomorrow. Stewing hens make delicious broth and we had recently sold out of our stewer inventory. These hens are fast and are much easier to gather when they’re bedding down for the night. We were able to round them up fairly quickly and get them settled for the evening.
Thursday, September 4th
Since our usual processing day, Wednesday, as occupied with mind expansion and new life experiences, we processed chickens on Thursday. After tending to the turkeys and Feathernet hens, intern Josh and I collected about 200 broilers with Jonathan, one of our apprentices.
I was on the legging station and I can assure you that working on stewing hens is much more intensive than working on a broiler. The broilers are between seven and nine weeks old by the time they are processed and the stewing hens are usually two to three years old. This gives the stewers time to grow very strong cartilage at their joints, making legging harder on you and your knife. I had gutted stewers before coming here when helping with processing on the farm that Dan (my Dan back in New Hampshire, not Daniel Salatin, just to be clear) had worked at previously, and it is a much different experience than gutting a broiler. Basically, it takes longer and is messier. But that is okay. They are different builds and different organs are more fully developed, so it takes a while to get used to the transition. I am, however, looking forward to some lovely chicken soup.
Friday, September 5th
Friday was a bit of an odds and ends day as we were preparing for the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund’s annual fundraiser, which was to take place this weekend. After taking care of the turkeys and laying hens, intern Tim and I set out three pens of broiler chicks (the last batch of this year!), helped repair some gates and fencing at one of the pig pastures and cleared brush for a fence line Joel was cutting back.
After lunch, we set out trash cans and the like for the fundraiser, built a log wall in one of the barns (Think lincoln logs but with actual trees) and did evening chores. That evening, as part of the fundraiser, we were able to go to a street fair and dinner put on by Farm to Consumer. There were some different vendors and organizations there supporting local food and Joel was given an award by the mayor of Staunton, VA (the town the fair was held) honoring him for his significant contributions to the local food movement. It was fun to see so many enthusiastic people and see Joel get his award. And there were brownies. Yay.
Saturday, September 6th
I was on the schedule to work this weekend, which ended up being fortuitous for me. I like when there are events at Polyface, so it was fun to be able to participate. After morning chores, we interns were invited to partake in Farm to Consumer’s welcome breakfast, which was generous of them. There was a farm tour, which I got to attend even though I was technically working (I can work and be inspired by Joel at the same time… multitasking!), followed by lunch and some speakers. I ended up joining the organization and suggest that those of you who haven’t yet do so. This organization has done a lot to educate farmers of their rights when it comes to food laws, illegal search and seizure and all kinds of other complicated legalese. It also gives consumers a way to help farmers and keep our local small farms out of legal trouble. They are also nice folks and were a pleasure to have around the farm.
We are down to three weeks left… I’m getting excited to head home, see the people and pets that I miss, and apply what I’ve learned here to my own farm business, but it will be weird not seeing all my intern, staff and animal friends that I’ve become accustomed to. Good thing for the internet. For most people, they’re never more than a few keystrokes away.
I've brain-tanned my fair share of deer, squirrels, groundhogs, foxes and sundry other creatures unfortunate enough to cross Route 9 near our farm and school in West Virginia; but the farmers market seemed nervous about the prospect of giving us the skin when they slaughtered the next in their herd. Either way, we spent months calling, negotiating, anticipating and mostly, waiting.
American Natives weren't the only early people to practice brain-tanning; it was a wide-spread practice whereby the brain of the animal provides the lecithin needed to naturally tan the hide. Today, modern tanneries use awful chemicals like chromium sulfate, but primitive humans used any source of tannins whether from lecithin in brains, or from certain barks or vegetables. Many American natives revered the buffalo and tanned its hide in a highly ritualistic manner. Buffalo skins provided homes, clothes and food for the Lakota and other people of the American interior.
As a kid, I remember traveling across the country with a plastic buffalo super glued to the dash board, anxiously peering out the window of the Dodge Caravan, waiting for my first glance of a real live buffalo. The feeling was exactly the same waiting for the call from the farmer's market that we would be getting a hide.
Brain-Tanning is a Big Job
We knew it would be a big job. Brain-tanning a big deer can take 3 to 4 days for one person, so we definitely wanted help. We sent out an alert on the Facebook page letting our students and neighbors know that we would be trading brain-soaked, 25-degree-Fahrenheit, stooped-over labor for ... well, apple cider.
When we picked up the hide at the butcher's, we found out that the sow had been almost full-term with two calves. We dolefully loaded the 55-gallon barrel holding the bloody pelt along with the two unborn buffalo whom we wanted to honor. We weren't quite sure what to do once we got the two perfectly formed little buffalo home, so we took them to the western end of the school, towards the setting sun and the land of the buffalo and buried them in a patch of lamb's quarter. Maybe it was a silly gesture, but a part of me felt responsible for those two calves and the realities of our effects on other creatures is something I try to lean into instead of turning away. But now the hard work started. We decided to dry scrape the hide, which means building a rack. This was a big animal, so we got 16 foot 2-by-4s and built a square to stretch the hide out in. We sent out the alert. "Everybody who wants to tan a buffalo, be here tomorrow by 9 am, and stay all weekend!"
Tanning a Buffalo Hide in Winter
Sure it was 25 degrees and there was snow on the ground, but folks showed up and we scraped and scraped and scraped and scraped and warmed by the fire and then scraped some more. We scraped using traditional stone tools as well as ulu knives and plain old butter knives. The turkeys helped out too, picking scraps out of the grass.
Later we heated the brains with water and started rubbing them into the giant skin. Over 4 weeks, we brained the hide 6 or 7 times. We could tell the snow accumulation by how high up the buffalo rack the drifts were. Slowly, she dried and tightened, straining the wooden rack. I rendered the fat we pulled off of the hide into wonderful bison tallow, gifts back to our helpers on that first weekend.
We now have the bison hung in our main pavilion, and the 20 or so people who were a part of the hard work show her off to other students and stop by to touch the fur and admire their work. A huge part of what we do is build community that strives to live an authentic life, and this wonderful animal helped us along the way.
One of the worst traits of humankind is our reliance on fossil fuels and the incessant depletion of non renewable resources. There are many alternatives and yet the majority of the world still acquires energy using practices which are causing irreversible damage to the earth, the people, the land, the air and the water. The exploitation of natural resources and reliance on coal powered plants and nuclear energy plants will lead to a dismal future if solution based renewable energy systems are not replaced as the norm.
Introducing Aur Beck
Luckily, individuals like Aur Beck are shedding light on the easy transition to choosing renewable energy. My dear friend, Aur 'da energy mon' Beck, has been immersed in the growing field of renewable energy since he was a teenager. In 1990 at age 15, after independently researching solar energy, Aur moved into a 12 volt, battery operated camper in his parents’ driveway.
Aur translates as "light" or "to enlighten" in both Hebrew and Latin, a perfect name for a solar energy expert. According to Aur, “reading profusely and consistently tinkering with Renewable Energy (RE) has been a continuous constant throughout my life. Never officially attending school left me time to do in depth study, intern, view, and install renewable energy projects. Of course, working in one of the first United States passive solar schools helped.”
The Power of One
Aur is the president, chief tech, and coordinator of the Renewable Energy Install Network (Green Geek Squad) for Advanced Energy Solutions. Since 1999, he has been putting his knowledge to great use promoting, installing, & educating about renewable energy.
Aur has made significant contributions to Solar Energy in recent years. Aur sheds his light in many ways:
Founder and on the board for both the Illinois Renewable Energy Association and the Southern Illinois Center for a Sustainable Future
Started Oil Addicts Anonymous International
Hosts a weekly radio talk show called Your Community Spirit
AESsolar won the “Missouri Schools Going Solar” contract in 2005 and assisted with the sale and installation of 17 school systems
January 2007, trained presenter for Al Gore’s Climate Project
Based on the vast knowledge base Aur has in the field of renewable energy, he was invited to join the Midwest Solar Training Network (a DOE program) and to become an adjunct professor at Hocking Energy Institute in Logan, Ohio
Aur grew up on the family farm in the heart of the Shawnee National Forest, in an off-the-grid, solar-electric-powered home which makes it very easy to advocate for a life of simpler living, energy efficiency and renewable energy. Aur came up with and definitely lives by Advanced Energy Solutions slogan: We Empower YOU to Get Energized!
Dedication to Sustainable Living
I have been impressed with Aurs dedication to sustainable living and renewable energy since I first met him in 2000. One of Aurs most notable accomplishments in the last few years was being hand selected and invited to teach a semester of Solar PV Design and Installation by Neil Hinton, the Dean of the School of Engineering and Information Technology of the Hocking College Energy Institute in Nelsonville Ohio. This is impressive in light of the fact that Aur hasn’t been through any formal schooling whatsoever. He has no degree but he is a living breathing encyclopedia of all things solar. Aurs ability to confidently teach at a college level with no formal training is very inspiring. Not only does it encourage others to follow their dreams but it also offers a bit of insight into just how powerful it is to be passionate about what you do in life sans a degree.
At the Energy Institute, Aur inspired students by his minds on/ hands on teaching methods. He tested their knowledge initially to try and fill in the knowledge gaps throughout the semester. He gave them useful and practical knowledge which can actually be related to real world applications.
The reason he was selected to teach is due, in part, to him being double NABCEP certified. Helping students in the program taking The NABCEP, (North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners) Entry Level knowledge test was his primary goal.
Inspiration is cyclical. Renewable energy can reshape the future.
Advanced Energy Solutions
To learn more about Aur and his company, please visit his website. Advanced Energy Solutions offers:
Solar and Wind Generated Electricity
Utility-Tied/Net Metered or Off-Grid Systems
System and Component Sales
On-site Consulting and Electric Load Analysis
Follow-up on Technical Assistance and Service
Training from Basic to Advanced hands installation
Training Programs-designing & installing hands on training labs
Aur also manages a living off-grid Facebook group.
When those golden heads start to open up, it is a sign for me to make one last harvesting visit to the hive. If there’s any “available-for-people” honey left, now is the time I take it. There are three reasons for this rationale: (1) I don’t want any goldenrod honey in the honey I sell. Some people actually do like it, but when it’s in the hive, it stinks to high heaven and I’ve never been able to get it past my nose! (2) It (and aster honey as well) crystallizes at record-breaking speed. Although I don’t mind crystallized honey (it spreads like peanut butter!), lots of people don’t like it and I don’t want to sell them honey that won’t make them completely happy (3) The girls love goldenrod and its highly nutritious, so I let them collect all they can to overwinter on!
Beekeeping in Fall
So with any luck, I’ll do one more honey harvest and then switch over to my fall/winter inspections. In the fall the queen slows her egg laying and the bee population declines to ensure that the foodstuffs will be sufficient to make it through the winter. The fewer the bees, however, the harder it is for the girls to defend against interlopers. So fall is the time for pretty frequent checks for varroa, food store progression, etc. It is also the time robbers such as yellow jackets, hornets and wasps make their move on unsuspecting, weaker hives.
The saying goes, “Take your losses in the fall,” and I totally agree. It’s better to take two weak hives and combine them than to try and carry them through the winter struggling. There’s more chance a combined hive will make it to next spring when they will again build up and you can split them back out into two hives!
Summer Problems in the Beeyard
It’s been a tough summer. Way too much rain! And when you live in the Original Down East of North Carolina where you’re only three feet above sea level to begin with, it means a lot of soggy days wearing fisherman’s boots, not being able to cut the grass, and even though your veggies are in raised beds, pretty crummy yields. The beans, radishes, lettuce, peppers and potatoes put on a pretty good harvest but my cabbage plants, squash and tomatoes were a disaster! I’m hoping the monsoon-type rain will stop soon. I still haven’t put in my winter garden and pretty soon it’ll be too late.
To add insult to injury, Hurricane Arthur hit us as a category two and for the first time in my life in NC it wasn’t the surge that got us (very little water with Arthur), it was the winds! Four days of cleaning up branches and limbs — and my greenhouse was flattened! What a heartbreak! And now they’re forecasting a killer winter! Up go the hoop houses!
I see from my last blog post that I left you hanging regarding the two splits that weren’t making queens. Well, I finally decided to get a couple of queens from Ricky Coor of Spring Bank Apiary (the best queens in NC in my humble opinion). Due to the popularity of his queens, however, I had to wait until May 27! I was worried about laying workers, but Ricky gave me a trick: Give a queenless hive a frame of open brood (at this point in time they had only capped brood)! It worked and I installed the new queens on May 28. Both hives accepted the queens without hesitation, and when I checked on June 1, both queens had been released from their cages.
Unfortunately, for a reason I cannot fathom, one of the splits lost even the new queen, and they had dwindled to point where I knew they would not rebound—barely a handful. So I just dumped the remainder in front of one of the other hives and took their hive away. A paper combine is not necessary when there is such a small number of bees. They will go to another hive and their demeanor will let the hive know they are not robbers and they will be allowed to join the colony.
Managing Bee Swarms
On June 8, I checked the two swarms I had gotten from Edgewater Gardens. One was fine; the other had lost its queen and had dwindled. I was totally discouraged so I just did a paper combine with one of the established hives.
It makes me nervous that I can’t get an answer as to the queen failures I’ve been experiencing over the past two years. I also find it interesting to note that the two hives that were originally established thirteen years ago (!) continue to thrive. I assume the genetic diversity that has gone through those hives has built up the bees’ immune systems and that they are better able to deal with the new problems confronting the honey bee. Neither of those two hives has ever been given a queen “from the outside.” I always let my girls requeen themselves if I possibly can.
On July 25, when I went out to open the chickens, I noticed a very small swarm in the vitex! A very easy swarm to catch: I merely snipped off the branch and shook them into a nuc, gave them a frame of honey, a frame of pollen, and a frame of brood. That was it! They were happy as could be. And I did all of this in my nightgown! But once I got back inside I thought, “That was a very small swarm of bees. Darn! It’s got to be an afterswarm and I missed the original, much bigger swarm.” I decided right there I’d better check the other hives to see if there were any signs of swarming. I got dressed and went behind the garden shed to grab some hay for the smoker when lo and behold! The Seeley swarm trap that I had moved under the shelter out of harm’s way of Hurricane Arthur was buzzing with a very large swarm! I dumped them in a hive and they’re now happily humming in the beeyard! Since then the hive in the nuc has grown and is now living in a deep. I expect to add a super for the goldenrod collection. So once again, all is well at the Bees a Charm Apiary. I haven’t had a big honey harvest this year, but the honey I did get is beautiful and delicious. Hopefully, I’ll get some more in my next and final harvest.
Annual Honey Tasting
Crystal Coast Beekeepers had their annual honey tasting the second Monday of September. It’s always so interesting and astounding to see all the different honeys that are produced here in our little county. No two honeys are alike! We always have a wonderful time at the honey tasting.
We were pleased to do a presentation to gardeners at Carolina Home and Garden, with information on gardening for the honey bee, handouts, and an observation hive. We’ll be doing the Day for Kids in Emerald Isle again this year and will be handing out honey sticks! Don’t know what the kids like better: the observation hive or the honey sticks!
I also had the pleasure of attending Joel Salatin’s last field day at Polyface Farms. We can all learn a lot from Mr. Salatin and his son’s beehives are wonderful. He even has a bee gum that he’s fit with a Langstroth honey super! I think it’s so great that the bees give him honey in a Langstroth yet they’re still able to live in a tree! Marvelous!
That’s it for now. Hope you are enjoying my bee adventures. Please contact me with any questions/concerns/comments you have. Would love to hear from you!
Monday, August 25th
This week, my morning chore assignment was to be on the project team. I like working on projects because your activity changes daily and it gives you a good idea of what kind of farm related trouble shooting you can expect when you’re in the swing of things on your own farm. Today’s project was to take the feed buggy out to the fields where we have broilers and fill the feed bins. The feed buggies are very large and need to be brought out using a tractor, so Tim, my project partner for the week, and I teamed up to get that done.
We spent that morning and most of the rest of the afternoon doing some work on a new pasture at one of the Polyface rental properties. This involved more time with the chipper, collecting firewood and organizing the posts Joel Salatin had made out of some of the trees he had cut down. I did get an opportunity to use the hay mower with Jonathan, one of our apprentices, which was a blast. It’s a huge machine and it was really fun to drive. Going around one corner, I did miss a little strip of grass, which I’m told isn’t too bad for your first try but it would have been nice to have a perfect first run.
Tuesday, August 26th
Tuesday morning’s project was reconnecting a piston on one of the tractors (It sounds harder than it is. All we had to do was put a pin and some spacers in.), cleaning out the 6” of bark and sticks from the bottom of the wood trailer that had come loose during all our firewood collecting into the piglet pen and loading up lumber and tools for some fence repair we were going to do later that day.
After breakfast, we spent the rest of the day at one of the larger properties Polyface manages. Our objectives were to repair some fencing and a section of a corral that was broken over the past year by a wayward bull and catch a steer who had escaped through a section of fence from the comfort of his lush pasture and cattle friends into what has to be some of the most dense brambles I have ever seen. Daniel Salatin decided that since catching the loose steer was more of a toss up time wise that we should do that first. There were several of us there and we broke into two teams each starting at opposite ends of bramble land with the plan to regroup once someone found the steer. Thankfully Hannah, our eagle eyed apprentice, spotted him about eight minutes into our quest. I say thankfully because the brush and thorns were over five feet high and looking for something, even something as large as a steer, was a bit of a challenge. As you can imagine, this steer was stressed out and unhappy because he was alone and away from his companions and wasn’t really in the mood to be directed as to where he should go. It took a group effort to get him across the field and over to his pals, but the relief he clearly felt from being reunited with his herd made the whole production it took to find him and get him there worth it. After Operation Steer Reuniting was completed, we moved the entire herd across a country road and down a driveway to their new pasture. This move went very well and we stopped to eat and regroup before spending the rest of the afternoon on repairs.
Wednesday, August 27th
When you’re on the project team, one of your weekly jobs is to catch birds on processing days. Today was a big day and Tim, apprentice Jonathan and I were responsible for catching nine pens worth of birds, which came out to 560. This speaks a lot to how much we’ve learned over the past few months, as we were able to catch all those birds in about 45 minutes. If this were a month or so prior, catching this many birds would have taken us a lot longer to complete. To catch birds from the broiler shelters, we use boards to herd them towards the front of the structure and take off the two removable covers. One person then gets in with the birds and hands them to the other, who puts them in the chicken crate. We then move the crates to the flat bed trailer and bring them down to the processing shed.
After breakfast, we headed down to the processing shed and got to work. I should have known something was off because I kept bursting the gallbladders of the birds I was gutting, rendering their livers unsalable, which is unlike me. One gallbladder even exploded on my face. Gross. Totally my fault, but still gross. I’m usually good for bursting two or three over the course of a few hours, not six in ten minutes. I then suddenly didn’t feel fell, went to get a drink of water and ended up going back to bed. I think what did me in was a migraine, but whatever it happened to be was unpleasant and I felt bad for having to leave the line. Nobody minded, as we’ve had our share of sicknesses, sore backs and the like, but you always like to think of yourself as invincible and it can be frustrating when you’re reminded that you’re not.
Thursday, August 28th
Thursday morning, project people are in charge of doing restaurant load up. We pull food from the freezers and walk in refrigerator, assemble orders in coolers and load the truck for Richard, our affable and very intelligent driver. (I really enjoy talking with him, in case you can’t tell.) Once that was done and we had eaten, we headed over to a Polyface rental property to gather pigs to send to slaughter. Pig herding is a bit of an art because pigs are very smart and quick, despite their large size, and are very sensitive to cues from those who are herding them. Eric, our apprentice manager, was there and between his directions and some of the pig nuances we have learned over our time here, we were able to get the trailer loaded.
We spent the afternoon working on whole bird cutups. I had mentioned learning how to part out a bird a few weeks ago, which we call parts and pieces. Whole bird cutups are a bit different because where doing parts and pieces yields packages of parts from many birds (You would buy a bag of just wings, legs and thighs, necks, boneless breast, etc.), whole bird cutups are one bird cut up and packaged with all the parts. I enjoyed learning how to do this, as it involves using a meat cleaver (I’m hardcore now.) and arranging the pieces so they look nice for resale. There was hay stacking going on as a result of Monday’s mow, but I was so excited about learning how to cut the birds apart that I opted out. Some of the boys love working with hay, so I didn’t mind letting them have their fun.
Friday, August 29th
Friday was another big processing day, which meant project people needed to catch another 570 birds. We got this done quickly, following our Wednesday bar setting and we spent the rest of the day processing, bagging, freezing and doing more whole bird cutups. It was a big day and we got a lot done.
This weekend I went to New York City with my roommate Greer and happened upon the Union Square Farmers Market. I’d like you farmers to note that there are farms getting $40/lb for pork tenderloin and $5 for a half dozen of eggs. Take heart and sell your products! While we may all not live near New York City, there are people who will pay a fair price for our food and we need to get creative and find them.
I hope you all had a great week and look forward to giving you next week’s installment.
Making a Winter Checklist
We live at 9,750’ elevation and receive significant snowfall each winter. Our snow season can also run 6-7 months in duration. When we bought our property back in the 70’s the HUD report said we averaged 264” of snow each winter. Weather patterns have changed since that report was made but we still have substantial amounts of snow so it is still wise to pre-prepare for the annual event in advance. I have a check list that I go through prior to the first snow because once snow starts it is usually too late to make preparations.
Firewood: A Top Priority
First on the list is do we have enough firewood since we heat our home with a woodstove. We burn anywhere from 9 to 11 cords of firewood a winter. A cord is 4 feet high, 4 feet wide and eight feet long. I always take inventory to make sure that we have the necessary amount on hand but I like to keep an extra 2-3 cords un-split on hand in case we require more. I cut those logs to 48 inches long and keep them nearby and accessible. Our wood shed holds almost 6 cords so that firewood is always dry in case we have wet snows.
Has the necessary maintenance been done? Has our chimney and wood stove been cleaned and checked for problems? Are the exposed exterior portions of our garage, wood shed and house plus the board walk and picnic table all sealed or stained as needed? Are all the yard tools hung in their proper place and equipment put away so it is not buried or inaccessible when the snow arrives? Have the driveway markers been put up so I don’t run off the driveway with the tractor/snow thrower when the snow builds up? Have I gone down the driveway to pick up loose rocks and sticks so they are not picked up by the snow thrower? Has the snow thrower been serviced and ready to go? Are the garden boxes ready to be covered with snow and prepared for next season? I usually plant my spinach in the late fall so when the snow melts in the spring it will sprout and is hardy enough to withstand the late spring frosts and snows. Are garden carts and wheel barrows stored properly? Have I shut off outside water and drained the garden hose? Is the pantry adequately stocked?
Grounds and Property Checklist
I usually do a last minute inspection of our property to make sure all the branch piles have been hauled off to the community burn site or mulched. Once covered with snow it will be too late to deal with this contingency. Are the raspberry, currant and gooseberry plants all trimmed back as they will be covered with 6-8’ of snow and ice? Have I stored the utility trailer in a place where it can be accessed? Have I disassembled our mist system we put up each summer as part of our wildfire mitigation? Are the log splitter, wood mill, pressure washer and mulcher all serviced for storage so they will be ready to go next spring? Are the water cans and water storage containers emptied so they don’t freeze and split? And lastly have I found the snow shovels and put them in a location where I can get to them when needed?
Items to Be Checked Off
Then there are things like the tractor and our vehicles that need to be serviced and made ready for the winter months. We take our vehicles to a mechanic to get them ready but the tractor I do myself. When it is 10 degrees outside with the wind is blowing it is not a good time to try to service a tractor. We have our vehicles serviced in town but I like to put a good coat of wax finish on the exterior before it gets too cold. After going through my mental and written check list I always manage to forget a few items that when discovered usually have to wait for springtime and hopefully are not that important.
Winter Project Checklist
When the snow finally arrives I like to have the assurance that I have done all I could before hand to be ready for single storms that may dump up to 6 feet of snow. We make sure there is emergency water on hand where it won’t freeze. During the winter is also when I do my inside projects. This winter I will use the lumber I recently milled out to make two stand up closets for our clothes. I also hope to make two interior doors and a new solid wood front door. I also use that time to clean and sharpen chain saws I use through out the summer. I clean, sharpen and adjust my wood working tools as well as those tools I use for mechanical projects and outside hand tools.
Anyone who may have the mistaken impression that homesteading in a semi remote area where climatic conditions can be harsh might be mistaken. There are endless tasks that constantly need to be addressed and what I have learned is no matter how well prepared I am I always manage to forget some obvious and vital preparation that it is too late to deal with when the snow starts flying. Getting ready for our long winters requires a lot of work. I have found that by doing most of the preparation done before winter starts it leaves time for those inside projects as well as spending time snow shoeing and sledding throughout the winter. The least amount of snow we have received has been around 120 inches and the most has been around 340 inches. When living as we do being prepared is clearly a virtue not to be ignored because of the hard work required in getting ready.
For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and mountain living go to: www.brucecarolcabin.blogspot.com.