KW Homestead

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Tag: winter homestead chores (page 1 of 2)

Wind and Winter Weather: Repairs and Shocks!

This has been an intense winter, as many of you know from first-hand experience!

We’ve had to make a few fence repairs from the wind, and “pick up the pieces” after winter storms came through and dropped inches of snow.

Here’s our adventure in picture form:

A few weeks ago we had a wind storm that blew gusts around 50 or 60 miles per hour. We never, in our wildest dreams, would have thought that the chicken fence would act like a sail and fold up onto itself like a fan:


Where’d the square-shaped fence go?


An airborne fence? Whoa!

Stupidly, for the most recent winter storm we didn’t prepare for a power outage at all. We over-prepared (is there really such a thing?) for the one before this last one, but not for this one!

Since we get our water from a well, our water doesn’t work when the power doesn’t. We utterly forgot to worry about this, and so when we woke up yesterday to find that our power was out, we realized that we had to find a way to get water for our ducks to drink. We decided that melting snow next to the wood stove was the best bet…


Jason scooping snow into “the bathtub” to put by the wood stove.

And we also forgot to remove the netting from the chicken pen to keep the snow from sticking to it…


The netting became so heavy with snow that it deformed the fence!

Luckily none of the netting ripped!


Yes, that’s a blanket of snow on top of our bird netting!

Even after all the cleanup and repairs we had to do, it still is lovely to have a blanket of snow on the ground. I’m still not sick of winter yet, not when we have views like this…



And of course, the geese were not phased by the situation at all and continued to bathe throughout the freezing temperatures!



They don’t look quite as white as they used to, do they?



Pigs in a Blanket (and Hay)!

Yesterday and today have been pig-filled days… Tonight we ate pigs-in-a-blanket while watching an awesome video about butchering pigs, but not until after we finished creating the wind-and-snow-proof, new pig hideaway. Our original fence was working just fine for mild weather, but we knew that we need something a lot sturdier and weather proof considering the incoming 6+ inches of snow!

The side of the shelter

The side of the shelter. Old doors we found in the barn are lashed down for sturdy wind breaks… Emma’s idea! The 2 perpendicular sides of the shelter are situated like this.

The 3rd side of their shelter... A partial cattle panel with a tarp wrapped around it for blocking the wind.

The 3rd side of their shelter… A partial cattle panel with a tarp wrapped around it for blocking the wind. This side runs diagonally across one corner of their pen… This was Jason’s idea!

The one small opening they have for getting in and out… This minimizes the wind and snow that can fly in!

Hello pigs!!!


Looking in at the pigs from a little peep hole in the opposite corner from their entrance… We’ve stuffed it with hay so they can fully bury themselves if desired (since they love this so much!).

Pigs in the hay! Stay warm tonight!







A Mushroom Log Update

Since inoculating our shiitake mushroom logs and watering them and watching them for the first few months, we’ve been pretty much ignoring those things, waiting for them to fruit.

A few months ago, we saw one mushroom rearing its head, but it never got very big and no more appeared after that. We knew that it was possible that the logs would not fruit in the fall, instead waiting for the spring thaw to begin coming out, but it was still disappointing nonetheless.

I just checked on them today while I was getting firewood, and still they look the same. Now, in the 20 degree weather, is certainly not a time they would choose to come out, but I was still curious to look!


Mushrooms logs, looking the same as ever.

A few months ago we noticed that a few of the logs were growing a lichen on their bark, which could mean that the shiitake spores couldn’t/didn’t act fast enough inside the log to take it over before the lichen gained control. These logs might not fruit for us, and we didn’t want them the spread the lichen to any of the other logs, so we moved them a little but away from the bunch.We’ll see what they do!


Taken over by lichens!

As we get closer to spring, and when we get some warmer days here, I plan to hose them down a good bit to make sure the spores inside don’t totally dry out. Since we’re new at this, I’m afraid that the spores that are growing inside the logs might have already dried out too much, killing them. This could just be my worry talking, but we’ll find out in a few months, I suppose! Hopefully once the spring thaw begins, we’ll have more shiitake than we know what to do with! Eating the wild Lion’s Mane mushrooms got us so excited, and we can’t wait for some more mushrooms!



Wind Proofing the Chicken Houses

Tonight it is supposed to get down to 10 degrees (without the wind chill) and we decided that we really needed to set up the chickens with extra windbreaks and warmth.

Here’s what we did:

  • Moved the mobile over beside the standard pen, creating a two-sided windblock for the geese to hide behind.
  • Covered the top of the mobile with 3 sheets and a tarp to keep in the warmth and to keep out the wind.

The bantam mobile gets some extra warmth!

  • Attached an unfolded cardboard box to the front door of the standard’s house. This is attached with small bungee cords and c-clamps. Their front door is facing the direction of the arctic wind and is only a frame covered in hardware cloth, so we knew that this was a place that they really needed some extra windblock!

A cardboard door!



Using our bungees… Thanks Grandma!

  • Adding straw to the area between the standard house and the bantam house…

Creating a space for the geese to sleep!

  • And even though the geese have this great new, less-windy spot, they didn’t think it was worth their time to go near it. Clearly they didn’t even need the wind block! They even had the audacity to take baths right out in the cold wind as the water was starting to freeze over! Ha, ha!

Taking a freezing bath!




Some Cold Weather Posts… Brrrrrr…..

In anticipation/celebration of the unusually cold weather that is rolling in tonight, 19 degree cold weather, I thought I’d take a look back at some of our cold weather posts from the past. For new readers who maybe weren’t around last winter, check out some of these posts on cold weather and winter homestead chores.

Hopefully these posts don’t make you feel too cold! Stay warm tonight!!

With Christmas right around the corner, why not get your Christmas tree delivered right to your home instead of messing with all the hassle and mess of picking one up and transporting it back home! If you are in the triad area, check out our Greensboro Christmas Tree Delivery service!

creating new space for great things: cutting down a big oak tree

as jason mentioned in his post yesterday, this weekend we enlisted my father’s help to clear a dying oak tree in our yard. i’m hoping that we’ll decide to use most of the new-found space for garden beds and a small orchard! we both really love the idea of cutting the stumps (there were 4 large “fingers” that made up this tree) to make them into seats, a table, and perhaps even a foot rest! we’re also thinking about somehow incorporating the space into our wedding… perhaps where the ceremony itself takes place… but we’re not sure yet.

starting to work in this area around the tree, we weren’t totally sure what the final product would be. we had originally thought to start cleaning up around the barn by clearing and pruning, thereby opening up that spot for wedding antics–but jason and i couldn’t agree on how to approach it.

sometimes we have similar visions of what we’d like to do with our land/yard and other times we can’t agree at all–this was one of those times. that’s just the nature of love and partnership! we did both agree, however, that we wanted to clear the barn area but we couldn’t come to a consensus about what to do with the cut trees and the empty space we would end up with afterwards…

and so we dropped that idea and dove head first into working on the area around the oak!


before: the many trunks of the oak tree (back and center, covered in snow)

there were a lot of pines and scrubby trees to cut and tons of green briar to rip out. as jason mentioned, poison oak abounds in that area, and although we killed a lot of it, we’ll certainly have to weed eat (or pig eat) in the near future.

we also found broken glass, tires, decaying lumber, metal (grates, tool boxes, cans, screws), plastic, and even a truck’s large tool rack. most items were trash but some were treasure!

after clearing all of the junk and the smaller growths under the large oak “fingers,” the chainsawing began. jason and i do not own our own chainsaw yet, and it is a big help to have a trusted family member willing to help! my dad has also helped out by cutting oak logs for this year’s mushroom crop. even though chainsaws are super useful, they still make me somewhat nervous (even though i’ve been around them my whole life) so i’m glad to have my dad help. he cut all four trunks of the tree about 4 feet off the ground, notching each of the trunks first so they would fall the way we wanted… except one of them. as soon as this one trunk (that he didn’t notch) started to go down, we could tell that the not-notching approach was not the best idea. the tree did fall the way we had hoped, but it bent upon itself and stayed partly attached to the stump. just looking at the result made me nervous!


the aftermath of felling the oak trunk without the pre-cut notch. note the size of the tree and how much pressure is sure to be on the bent pieces.

jason and i stayed far away while my dad slowly tried out a couple options for bringing the tree the rest of the way down. first he cut off some larger limbs that appeared to be holding up the trunk. that made the tree shift but did not bring it down. then he tried to cut at the taught pieces of wood that were still attached at the location of the cut (keep in mind that all of the weight of the tree was bowing down these pieces, and it was a surprise that they had not already snapped when the tree fell). needless to say, during this time i yelled at my dad not to make the cuts into the taught, flexed, “wooden slingshots,” but he only grinned at me and went for it anyway. uggghhh… fathers! they can be such punks!

despite my anxiety, his cuts to this part of the tree did not result in injury, and he stopped cutting in that area once the tree shifted a little bit more. then he cut the rest of the limbs off that might have been holding the trunk in the air and we discovered that the tree was actually balancing on a single pine pole coming out of the ground. annoyingly, my dad decided that kicking the pine pole would knock the heavy trunk off and make the tree finally hit the ground. he did this, and in my mind, barely got his leg out of the way before the heavy trunk hit the dirt.

i was horrified by what i perceived to be an exercise in idiotic risk-taking, but he simply laughed at me and said “i knew what the tree was going to do… and my leg was out from under it well before it hit the ground. it didn’t even come near me!” yeah, right!

anyway, we all escaped without injury (which is not surprising for jason and i since we were well away from the action the entire time).

this video shows my father notching one of the trunks and then sawing through it… a much safer tree-cutting practice than the other!

once the portions of the tree were laying on the ground, my dad cut them into manageable rounds and jason and i stacked them “tipi style” so that they would dry better… and now we have two great mounds of firewood that we will need to process, split, and store in the near future.


after: jason and bolt posing with the oak stumps n the background. what a changed view of our land!

so, not only did we clear the area of a dying tree and make way for future gardening and livestock practices, we also gained a lot of wood for next winter’s woodstove heating adventure! and although i hate to admit it, sometimes it is ridiculously fun to watch my dad act like a stupid teenager!


hibernation vacation: preparing for the winter storm!

currently at our house in stokes county, it is snowing! it has been snowing for the past few hours and we’ve already accumulated 1.5 inches.

our expected snowfall total: 6 to 10 inches, with perhaps a layer of sleet to top it all off. extreme! at least for central north carolina.


today’s snow storm, in progress

so far this year we’ve gotten a few other small snow storms, but nothing that can compare to what weather sources anticipate we’ll see today and tomorrow.


emma checking on the chickens after the snow 2 weeks ago


a few chickens come out to explore the winter wonderland







and while jason and i read, watch the snow, and research more plants that we want to plant in the spring, we’re also preparing in case of a power outage.

what we’ve done so far today:


collecting water in tubs and buckets in case of a power outage

  • i filled up a large rubber bathtub with water so that we can flush the toilet if the power goes out. i also filled up a 5-gallon bucket with water to use for chicken and dog water, even though if things become really crazy we can always thaw a bowl of snow for the birds. we’ve done this is because we have a well and the well pump needs electricity to operate.
  • i filled up a few gallons of water and our tea pot for our drinking water. considering that we have juices and milks in the fridge, i imagine we’ll fare just fine even in a worst case scenario.

storing drinking water in gallon jars

  • we have plenty of non-perishable food items (such as canned meats and canned vegetables).
  • jason made a venison stew last night that we will enjoy all day today and tomorrow (recipe forthcoming)
  • we have an 800-watt duracell inverter that we can use to charge devices once it stores charge from one of our cars.
  • we have plenty of candles (both real ones and battery powered candles) and many flashlights and extra batteries.
  • we also have headlamps and these amazing, warm hats with a light built in that jason’s mom got us for christmas!

later today we plan on cooking a few more items to have some ready-to-eat things available. some of these include:

  • lots of popcorn for a snack
  • basil beer bread, made with our very own basil and a beer jason brewed (recipe forthcoming)
  • pasta… filling, versatile, and not likely to go bad anytime soon even if it’s unrefrigerated for a day or two.

animal tracks on our frozen pond from our snow 2 weeks ago

otherwise we plan to lay low, watch the olympics, and read. the dogs and cat are spending time with us, sleeping and playing with (or thoroughly annoying) each other. the chickens will be fine in their house and since the wind isn’t blowing as of now, they will remain dry and warm. later today, we plan to go for a walk and check out our snow-covered pond to see which animals may have been walking over it lately.

so, if it’s snowing where you are, think of safety and prepare, but don’t panic (no driving to the store now!) and enjoy your hibernation vacation!


Winter Homestead Chores: Spring Garden Planning

In my other posts on winter homestead chores, I talked about taking the time to enjoy the season and recuperate from a busy year of homesteading and adding to the farm’s energy security by splitting wood for the woodstove. In this post, I’d like to talk about a more forward looking aspect of winter on the homestead. Planning next year’s garden.

Planning Next Years Garden

Emma Picking Puppies from the Garden Last Summer

This is a great time to start pouring over seed catalogs, looking for both the tried and true garden favorites and some new varieties, species, and heirlooms to experiment with. Many companies offer free paper catalogs, as well as online versions to help you sort through the massive number of vegetable and fruit seeds for the garden. Some of the ones on my desk are High Mowing Organic Seeds, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and Bountiful Gardens. These all specialize in heirloom vegetable seed, and always have something new and interesting to really get you salivating for that first planting and harvest.

Spring Garden Planning

Some of our favorite places to find new seeds

In addition to vegetable seeds, it’s also a good time to look at different fruiting trees, bushes, and shrubs. Some are best grown from 1-3 year old plants, and others do well as seed. Some of these plants, like hazelnut and elderberry, require a period of cold stratification if started from seed, so these are best ordered in late fall or early winter. Others, like Paulownia, readily germinate in spring conditions without a stratification period. Some plants have very specific and difficult stratification requirements and are best grown from cuttings or plants, like Yaupon Holly, which needs up to a year of warm conditions, followed 3 months of cold before it will germinate.

Once you have your have seeds, you want to check your weather conditions and average last frost date to determine when you can start transplanting your veggies into the garden. Working back from these numbers, and taking into account the frost hardiness of the veggies in question, you can figure out the best time to start your seeds indoors so that you’ll have the healthiest plants possible.

Pumpkins gardening

Start your seeds now to grow gigantic pumpkins like this!

Certain species are very frost and cold tolerant, such as many brassicas like cabbage and broccoli, and can be started and transplanted out very early in the year. Again, this depends on your climate.

Winter is also a good time to figure out where certain crops will be grown in the garden. For instance, tomatoes, potatoes, and other veggies in the nightshade family should not be grown in the same spot year after year. By practicing crop rotation, certain diseases and pest cycles are broken, and the result is healthier plants and better yields. Any good garden guide or encyclopedia–a great one on our shelf is Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening–will have all the information on rotating crops, and how long between plantings certain plants require before being planted in the same spot.

Potatoes Crop Rotation

We planted our potatoes late, but they still did well. We definitely won’t plant them in the same spot, though.

Finally, winter is great time to go over your garden notes–everyone should have a garden notebook–and remember what did well and what didn’t. What vegetables stored longest? Which varieties tasted best? What do you need to plant more of? Less of? Were certain things planted too late? All of these tidbits and recollections allow the organic gardener to finetune their garden into exactly what they want it to be, because gardening is a never ending lesson, and winter is a great time to study.

Winter Homestead Chores: Splitting Wood, One Cord at a Time

In my last post on Winter Homestead Chores I talked about using the shortened days of winter to hibernate, contemplate, and observe nature and your land. For some, especially those of us in colder climes, the best hibernation and contemplation is accomplished while enjoying the warm heat of a wood stove on a cold winter night. But wood stoves, while saving money and energy, require an investment of energy (or money) before they pay toasty dividends.

Basically, you can’t burn without wood. Dry wood. And split wood dries faster, and is easier to carry and load into a hot wood stove.

Split Wood, Chestnut Oak

A little more than a cord of firewood.

So today I grabbed my wood splitting tools, and made a nice dent in our stacked pile of chestnut oak rounds. I’ve heard different names for different tools, but today I grabbed a metal splitting maul, or “go-devil,” and a light single-sided ax. Emma’s father made and gave us a wooden maul for splitting wood this Christmas, but I haven’t used it yet. It’s sheer size should help with some of the knottier and hard to split wood we come across, though.

After cleaning out a section of our corn crib turned woodshed, i got into a groove and split about a cord of firewood. One important thing to note when splitting wood is to take some breaks (preferably with sweet potato ginger soup), and to stop when you’re tired. Splitting wood when tired is dangerous and a good way to end up observing the inside of hospital room, or worse.

But if you pay attention to basic safety, splitting wood is a great way to spend a winter afternoon on the homestead. Not only is there a great feeling of accomplishment as each log succumbs, but the addition to the family’s energy independence and reduced fuel costs–as well as the exercise–make wood splitting a great winter homestead chore.

Cold Wind Blowing

Brrrrrr…. Last night it got down to 3 degrees. Fahrenheit. With  a windchill of -11 degrees. That’s cold. So cold in fact, that it pushed us to the limit of our USDA Hardiness Zone. This kind of weather adds a few more things to the ordinary lists of winter homestead chores.

For instance, we took extra precautions with our remaining yaupon holly bush because its already on the hardiness border for our zone. We covered it with a layer of clear plastic, and a double layer of bed sheets just to be safe.

Emma thought up a few ways to protect the chickens from the icy wind and seal off drafts in their mobile coop.  That seemed to work well, and the chickens seemed extra joyous about both their new plot of pasture, and the warming rays of the sun. So far the chickens seem more than capable of handling the cold in their solid, yet uninsulated mobile coop.

Frozen chicken waterer and cold chickens

Ice Cold Water

Yet it only got up to 23 F today, so I did have to break the ice a few times on top of our new chicken waterer today to let them to drink. No frozen eggs to report of yet ;)

We also covered our well pump with a couple of sheets, just to be safe. That’s not a problem I feel like dealing with any time soon, and thoughts of building a more substantial well house came to my mind again last night.

Our faucet protectors did their job, and the pipes in the basement didn’t even flinch in the face of the cold, more than I can say for myself last night on our 1 am dog walk. The front treated me to a great swallow of arctic air that widened my eyes and stole my breath for a moment.  Did I mention the windchill? -11 F?

All in all, we weathered the cold just fine.  The house, furnace, chickens, and even Bridey. One thing to thank the cold front for was the sky last night. One of the clearest nights we’ve had yet, and worth bearing every extra second of the cold that set its stage.

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