Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Deer Isle has gotten cold. It's not so much the temperature, but the stiff western wind blowing down the Penobscot river and right down into our clearing. We were poorly prepared, as usual when a long mild fall turns to winter overnight. The wind blew right through an open window in the attic, our vegetable storage nearly froze and the Golden Russet apple tree we were going to pick sometime soon, well, that will be for an other year. We've spent the weekend catching up and here are some of the things we do to prepare for winter.
Make sure we can stay warm. This really began last winter, when I cut the wood that will warm us now. In spring/early summer I stacked it in our woodshed and now we use it to cook and heat with, using our small Jotul cook stove. Only a few rare nights every winter do we crank up our slightly bigger heating stove. Regardless of which kind of fuel, a small space to heat is a key factor to fuel efficient warmth. Once the nights get cold enough to require a heated space to sleep in, we move a double bed into the main room of our cabin and close off the attic, the mudroom and the backroom that in the summer is our bedroom. That leaves an 12x20 ft space with the bed about 2 steps away from the stove. We cover our windows with insulating plastic and in the deepest winter, we can sit here and safely watch the draft flutter in under the glass panes.
Put the gardens to bed. We cover our entire vegetable garden with seaweed for the winter. Leaves, straw, cuttings from day lilies or irises or even leaves and stalks from the summers corn patch will work. I cut my perennial beds back once they are all bloomed by, weed them and feed the plants and shrubs with compost.
Winterize our orchard. I use hardware cloth to wrap around the bottom foot of our fruit trees, as a way to keep rodents from eating the bark under the snow. It's also good practice to clean up all dropped fruit and leaves since that provides a place for bugs to overwinter.
Winterize our farm. We put the tools away, coil up hoses and make sure we can find the snow shovel. I like to be ahead of the curve and rake up as many leaves and branches as possible now, instead of waiting until spring. We do our best to keep squirrels and mice away from the outbuildings and set traps in the root cellar. I make sure I remember to get soil and compost from the garden before it freezes and keep it in a shed for my indoor spring planting.
Cull the livestock. The chickens that are too old to be productive layers end up in the pot, to save money on feed grain and make the chicken house less crowded. It's also time to butcher our pigs – it's hard to keep them warm outdoors, we're running out of apples and acorns feed them and it's cold enough to process the meat in a safe way.
Find a hobby. On such a northern latitude as Maine, the dark evenings are almost as long as the bright days. With the dinner being wrapped up while it's still technically afternoon and even though I go to bed so early even my Mum makes fun of me, there are still many hours to fill with something. A hobby is not only a way to learn something new and keep those evening interesting, but to me it's the splurge I otherwise rarely allow myself. Like making an advent calendar, for example, or putting together a photo album or painting Christmas cards for distant relatives. It starts to sound on the weather forecasts that the winter is here to stay, now. Not only are we ready for it, it's a welcome relief after a long fall and even longer year. Next week is when we'll kill our pigs and after that, well, after that it's winter for real.