Harvest Pond Ice to Fill an Ice House for a Year of Off-Grid Refrigeration

Ice stored in a properly insulated building will last over a year with no electricity whatsoever to provide year-round refrigeration—but requires hard work.

Reader Contribution by Kerry Mann
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80# Ice Block and Tool

Last week, our good friend William, along with his wife and nine children,  invited us over for dinner at their homestead. This was an honor and turned out to be an amazing (and perhaps life-changing) experience. Watch the video.

You see, William and his family are the ultimate homesteaders. They grow all of their own food. They heat their home with wood they harvest. William and his sons are expert level wood workers. They’ve built much of their own furniture. God and Family are everything. They hunt meat for food, not for fun.

That night’s dinner was venison meatballs cooked on a wood fired oven, mashed potatoes and gravy, freshly baked bread with recently churned butter and a side of coleslaw. Dinner was delicious and if that wasn’t enough we were treated to homemade ice cream and pecan pie for dessert.

We spent four hours with William’s family that night. We laughed and we learned under the glow of gas lamp. Our kids played card games together. It was such a peaceful, pleasant get together. All with no electricity.

What amazed me even more is William’s general attitude and outlook. I’ve spent a good deal of time with my friend William and he is always smiling. After getting to know him more, I finally realized what it is about him. He has no fears or anxiety. He doesn’t worry about the problems of the world, politics ,or the latest fear-inducing news. He is intentionally oblivious. His sole focus is J.O.Y. (Jesus, Others, Yourself). But it’s not an act. His faith is unwavering.

Keeping Ice for a Year or More in an Ice House

That night, with his ever-present smile, William told me about a yearly tradition in his community. Much of the food we ate that night was kept cold with a huge 80-pound block of ice inside a chest freezer with a cutoff electrical cord. In fact, that 80-pound block of ice was one of the last blocks from William’s ice house and nearly a year old! He harvested it from a pond almost a year ago.

One of the many things I learned that night is that ice stored in a properly insulated building (an ice house) will last over a year with no electricity whatsoever. William asked me if I’d like to join him in a few days for this year’s big ice harvest and I said absolutely yes.

As a city boy turned homesteader six years ago, I thought I knew what hard work was, but I’ve since been properly educated! I met William at his homestead with plans to use my truck and borrow a trailer from a neighbor. The day of the ice harvest happened to be the coldest day of the year with a wind chill advisory. The temps were -5 degrees Fahrenheit but reported to feel like -21 degrees F with the wind.

I was suited up with multiple layers with a nice sub-zero jacket, thinsulate pants and a ski mask. I could have comfortably climbed Mount Everest with my gear. William, on the other hand, had a basic straight cut jacket, cloth gloves, and rubber boots. We went to retrieve the neighbors trailer.

William returned from the neighbors house with a big smile, “Well looks like the trailer is a no-go, let’s head back and I will grab my team of horses and my trailer”. We did just that and William was standing on the trailer like a figure from a wild west movie, standing tall on a trailer while steering two huge horses down the road in a bitterly cold wind. With the horses, it took nearly a ½ hour to get to the pond. I don’t understand how he didn’t get frostbite on his face – instead, when we arrived, he still just had a big smile. 

Harvesting Ice from a Frozen Pond

The ice harvesting operation was a sight to see. There were many men already hard at work. One with a big gas-powered saw cutting into the ice. Other men were hitting the long chunks of ice to break them apart and then push them over to a gas-powered conveyor belt. The conveyor lifted the ice blocks up and several men in a horse-drawn trailer were there to grab the slipper 80-pound blocks before they came crashing down onto the trailer bed. Two men behind him would slide the blocks to the end of the trailer and then position them into neat rows.

I asked William if he ever fell in and he said yes, a few times! Before I knew it, William was straight to work. Like a well-oiled machine, ice cubes started flowing and everyone worked together. After standing around for a bit, I decided to jump right in and I got on the horse trailer and helped position the ice blocks. I ended up doing this for a few hours.

It was hard work. The blocks would fall over and trying to flip an 80-pound, slippery-wet block back upright was challenging, especially when the next block would come crashing down seconds later and my hands were frozen. After a couple hours, we got to William’s trailer and we were able to fit in 60 blocks. I offered up my truck and we stacked 40 more in my pickup for 100 total.

Filling the Ice House

We headed back to the ice house. This particular ice house was inside a barn with heavily insulated walls and a small 3-by-3-foot window which also served as the door. By this time, I was pretty beat but the hard work had just begun. Unloading these 100 blocks required another step: lifting!

I had to lift the blocks up to get them onto a chute and then slide them over to the man inside the ice house. I shouldn’t complain, because the man inside the ice house had to then lift each block down from that window; a back-breaking job. After some time, we managed to unload it all. And that was just trip Number 1. There was another 100 to go!

Heading back to William’s place he said to me, “You see, that’s a lot of work to refrigerate some food!”

I agreed but that’s one day of hard work and now he can refrigerate food for his entire family for a year. Plus, it was hard work that had a tangible result in the end: a full ice house. The other positive side of ice is that William is off-grid and not beholden to anyone. Sure it’s unlikely, but if I couldn’t pay my electric bill or if there was some disaster and we lost power, I’d have no way to refrigerate my food while William would be just fine.

That made me admire William’s way of life even more. I know the grass is always greener on the other side and that no one is perfect. But the thing about William is that he is not beholden to anyone, he has no fear and lives in a way I have never seen before. I want to be more like him.

My wife, Jen, and I have been pushing to be more off-grid but we always fall back. Not anymore. Our number one goal for the year is to transition to be fully off-grid. We are purchasing a wood cookstove, gas lights, and getting rid of our electronics. Our first big building project of the year will be, you guessed it, an ice house!

Kerry W. Mann, Jr. moved to a 20-acre homestead in 2015, where he and his family use modern technology. Connect with Kerry on his Homestead How YouTube page, Instructables, Pinterest,  Facebook, and at My Evergreen Homestead to learn new skills and teach homestead projects. 

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  • Updated on Jan 21, 2022
  • Originally Published on Jan 20, 2022
Tagged with: Kerry W. Mann, Reader Contributions, Wisconsin