Saturday, November 2, 2013

Battening down the hatches

The fall of the year is the time to batten down our farm in anticipation of winter. We never know whether we'll have a bad winter or not, so we always try to prepare for the worst.

A few years ago, we had two winters in a row that were remarkably harsh. One winter yielded a lot of snow; the next winter was a dire combination of snow and high winds. Our non-county-maintained road drifted shut so many times that it took a heroic neighbor eight hours to dig out our neighborhood, and there were nine-foot walls of snow on either side of the road. We plowed out our driveway (about 300 feet long) so many times that there was nowhere else to put the snow, so when another storm drifted it shut we had the foresight to park the car at the end of the driveway and skidded a sled over the length for about two months before we could park in front of the house again.

We always need to make sure we have adequate supplies of firewood, dog and cat food, chicken feed, hay, and (of course) people food before winter hits. We also try to clean up, so things like tools or random pieces of equipment don't get buried for six months.

Anyway, we've spent the last three weeks doing all these things to batten down. Today we expect our first really wintry storm (heavy rain, some snow, high winds) so we wanted to make sure we were ready.

Firewood has been a big preoccupation lately. Don cut the remains of the logging-truck load we brought in two years ago. We had a little over a cord left from this load.

We split and stacked this remainder. We needed to get this log yard cleared to make room for another logging-truck load.

Found an interesting fungal growth. Anyone know what type?

Over a couple of days, we split the rest of the wood...

...and stacked it on the porch.

With the help of a friend who stopped in to visit...

...Don got the awning roof finished.

Later he built a "pony wall" over the awning and below the eaves.

We also turned the spot adjacent to the awning into what we're calling the "feed lot." It required drilling some holes to put in a fence and gate.

Moving a railroad tie into place for a fence post...

...and cementing it into place.

Don mounded up some compost for me conveniently close to the garden gate in anticipation of next spring.

The girls worked at gathering more branches for a burn pile.

Later they helped me pluck pinto bean pods from the plants we pulled up. We'll let the pods dry and shell them later.

We got more tractor tires in, ready to expand the garden next spring.

I drained and coiled the hoses to store away for the winter.

The chickens, meanwhile, took advantage of some sunny weather to take dust baths.

We got a burn pile going, to get rid of some waste wood, bark, shop debris, and other burnable material.

This burn pile is where the new load of logs will be put, so we needed to get it burned, cooled, wetted, and otherwise done and out of the way.

The blueberry leaves are all red.

I gathered all the remaining pumpkins from the garden and put them in the barn. I've been giving a lot away, and we'll cut these remaining pumpkins up for cattle food.

Now that the awning is finished and the feed lot fence is made, we moved the animals from the pasture side of the property. A call of "Bossy bossy bossy bossy bossy!" brought the whole gang up fast. They know what's up!

Little Amy, Matilda's calf, was in calf-heaven. All these new playmates! She and Matilda have been in the driveway area of the house all by themselves since Amy was born. This is because I'm milking Matilda every day and wanted to keep her conveniently close.

She's met everyone through fences, of course, but now she got to introduce herself in person.

She and Tarter -- who are only four days apart -- have become fast friends. Very cute.

Over a period of days, the girls and I also sorted out a massive pile of haybale twine that had accumulated -- a couple thousand strings, I'm guessing. We divvied them into large and small widths.

We discarded the twine that was frazzled, short, knotted, or otherwise not worth salvaging.

Hay bale twine is tough as nails and has a zillion-and-one uses, so it's well worth keeping. The biggest problem is where (and how) to store it. After some debate, we suspended bundles of twine from the barn rafters.

They sort of look like freaky mutant Halloween wigs or something.

Thursday we got our firewood in!

I wasn't home when it arrived (Thursdays are my "city days") so I didn't get pictures of the unloading.

But what a pretty sight when I got home! Coupled with the trees we took down last week, this should be enough wood for three, maybe four years.

The last task Don wanted to do before today's storm blew in was make a door for the south side of the barn. For the last couple of years when winter came, he just nailed up a sheet of OSB to block the wind, rain, and snow (this door faces the prevailing wind direction). This year he wanted a proper door.

He used rollers from a friend's barn we dismantled and salvaged many years ago, so the door is a rolling rather than a swinging door. The task took him beyond nightfall, so he rigged up lights in the barn to finish.

With such a clear beautiful sky, it was hard to believe we had wind and rain moving in today.

But it did. We've had a fair bit of rain, but more than that we have high winds today. Because it's not unusual to lose power (which also means we lose water, since our well pump is electric), we topped off every livestock water tank, caught up on laundry, dishes, and showers, and have oil lamps standing by.

Don has more work to do on the barn door, but he decided against it. "I think I'm going to leave the barn alone today," he said. "I'm barned out."

We're pretty much ready for both this immediate weather, and for winter. It sure feels good to be prepared!


  1. Whew! I am worn out just reading this post.
    Again, you got your animals to pose perfectly for you.
    I've been doing a lot of the stuff you have, but your barn door beats mine. I had to simply nail up a big board and wait until next spring to put in a new one. My horses board at a neighbor's for the winter, so I have a bit of time.
    I have also enjoyed watching your barn side building. I have a bad case of the "I wants."

  2. Looks like lots of work to be done! I just found your blog and enjoyed reading this.

  3. That is a lot of work! What a great example of preparing for what you know is coming. I pray many more will prepare for what is coming in our country and world.

  4. is there a way for you guys to set up a gravity water tank for the house? or a battery powered pump from a water tank to the house?
    i really like your wood pile.

  5. never thought about buying a truck load of logs, what would the ball park price on that be and roughly how many board feet or weight is there to a load like that?

  6. That Don again. What a guy. Also, it's great to see the girls pitching in. My Dad always said "As long as you keep the kids sweating you'll keep them out of trouble".


  7. If only more people, especially urban and suburban, would prepare for the winter season we'd all be better off. Many would not need to chop wood but making sure they have food & water supplies and the necessary tools like snow shovels and windshield scrapers and the clothes like hats, gloves & boots they need to get thru the winter would make life easier on everyone.

  8. Same here, working on this and next year's firewood by the truckload.

    Also smoking lots of fresh-caught salmon for the winter.

    It's been mostly raining since about 4 o'clock this morning, with power flickering a bit all morning and a very brief outage around noon.

    Got the sinks mostly cleared, the kettle and pitcher full and jugged water at the ready. Lamps live at fingertip range 24/7 and at the ready in all rooms, so we stay ready. Best of all, despite the harsh weather, dense forest and rough, steep terrain, we almost never lose power, and if we do it's almost always for a very short time.

    I had to laugh this morning when a friend from California told me how they'd been without power or phone service for 'days and days'. She lives in a beautiful, temperate climate with smooth terrain. lol

    The work on the barn looks great. The cattle look fat and happy.

    A. McSp


  9. That was a great post Patrice. What a busy family you've been!! I live in the sub tropics of Queensland, Australia so I really have no comprehension of the winter preps that are needed for cold weather. None-the-less, over the past couple of years, I have found your preparations inspiring and I am much better prepared for situations that could impact me here. Thank you for sharing. Jenny

  10. And here I was feeling good about getting the root cellar in order today.

    Well, I also made a pan of Apple Betty.

    Just Me

  11. We got hit with the strong winds and rain of the Halloween storm, power went out for several hours, which gave me an opportunity to try out some of our preps...which turned out very well,thankfully. Didn't pull the genny out cuz it was late at night. I figured if I needed to, I could hook it up in the morning for the fridge. But power was back on. Only scary moment was when they called the tornado warning, but luckily we were fine, it went south of us and hit a rural area, so no one was hurt, thank goodness. Our town made the prudent decision to postpone trick or treating, so looking forward to passing out candy this weekend.

  12. That's a good bit I firewood!!!! We've thought about getting some from our local log yards too. Nice to be able to have it delivered! We have to go get ours. Of course I'm sure the would deliver for a fee. (There's always a fee.....) stay safe with the storm!!!!

  13. I'm seriously thinking about getting hubby a splitter for his next birthday. I think he'd appreciate it. LOL

  14. I'm seriously thinking about getting hubby a splitter for his next birthday. I think he'd appreciate it. LOL

  15. I'm now good to go here in the Driftless Area of the upper Midwest. 3 cords of oak this year will see me through in my cabin. I'm off grid and the solar is enjoying a sunny day - finally. Gave a pickup load of squash away to all and sundry so now have room for the potatoes and 80# of small squash which my brother thinks are gourds. They taste good though and small enough to serve for one person. Propane tank is full so have plenty for the frig and lights/stove if I use them.
    I noticed you made your concrete with water before dumping it into the post hole. I too use RR ties for gate posts but dump the mix in dry and tamp it tight. The moisture cures the concrete rock solid and the tight, dry mix allows me to use the post right away and not have to wait for the concrete to cure.

  16. Patrice,

    Your entire family has been extremely busy preparing the farm for your first snow. Stay warm, and safe.

  17. Roasted pumpkin seeds.

    Mmmmmm good!


  18. As usual, your lifestyle inspires me and it's so admirable and useful that your daughters help in everything. They're going to be a great blessing to some godly, hard-working young men. I'm looking forward to reading your blogs on the grandkids. lol...You're awesome and you and Don are in my daily prayers.

  19. As usual you inspire me and hope we're as well prepared as you and your family. Your daughters are going to make some wonderful wives to some godly, hard working young men. I'm looking forward to reading the stories on the grandchildren. lol..You're awesome and you Don and the girls are in my daily prayers. :) hugs and blessings your way.

  20. What a productive garden with all those pumpkins!! Are they not able to be stored over winter? or are you giving a lot away and using them for cattle feed because you already have a heap stored?

  21. Ouch. Preview ate my post :-(

    Here's the long and short of it. I replaced my 220 volts ac pump with a 110 volts ac pump with a clutch. Easier to find affordable inverters at 110 volts ac than 220. Essentially no startup current surge, a bit lower water flow rate, and some greater voltage drop between the house and the pump due to the lower voltage.

    OK, copying the text this time, let's see what happens.


  22. How wonderful to have meaningful work!

  23. That's a lot of stuff to get done. Sounds like a good time.

    BTW: the fungal growth appears to be brain fungus or witches butter:

  24. i have forgotten what it really takes to get a farm ready for the winter! However I don't think we were ever quite as prepared as you guys seem to be.

    I remember getting all the fire wood split & stacked & making sure the chicken house, & lean- to sheds all had straw for the animals.
    I still always had to carry wood from the wood shed because we didn't have a porch, but that was good times.
    Not living on a farm now, sure really makes me look back & appreciate much more what we really did have a child & all the hard work that went into it. However I don't regret it for a minute.

    your photos are beautiful patrice! Keep up the Hard Work!

  25. When we lived in Indiana I would go to the pallet manufacturer and load up the scrap wood cut to stove length. It was cheap enough and saved a lot of time in the woods. Of course I went into the woods anyway. I suggest you look into "Rocket stoves/ heaters" this winter. You can build one easy enough. They use a lot less wood to heat the space and leave fewer ashes. Now living in Florida and missing the fires.