first frost has come, or it's due any day, and you're probably ready
for winter's slowdown. But taking a few hours now to get your homestead
in order will save a few days in the spring. Here are the items at the
top of our winterizing list this fall:
- Drain and put away hoses.
- Drain rain barrels and return gutter water to the ground.
- Run your mower and any other summer-only motorized equipment dry. This will make engines start much better come spring!
- Pull up and put away tomato stakes and other garden supports.
Discard those old, blighted tomato plants somewhere far away from the
- Wait until the leaves drop, then wrap fig trees and other plants you're trying to grow beyond their usual hardiness range.
- Plant any bare ground with cover crops
if you've got time. (I'll plant rye for another week or so, but only in
areas that I won't want to plant into until late May 2015.) If it's too
late in the year for cover crops, mulch heavily, preferably with deep bedding from the chicken coop so the manure will have time to mellow before spring.
- Kill mulch new garden areas for next year.
- Cull excess animals
and move chickens off pasture. We let ours run in the woods during the
down season, but others move their poultry into greenhouses. Tractored
chickens can be kept on pasture over the winter, but you'll tear up the ground a bit. Four-legged livestock can be put on stockpiled pasture,
or can be moved inside onto deep bedding. The photo above shows what
will happen if you skip this step...and that's after the ducks were only
on an overused pasture for one extra week!
- Reward yourself for all this extra effort by ordering any new
perennials you have planned for fall planting. Ah, dreams of apples and
I'm sure I'm
forgetting some essential winterizing elements, but that should get you
started. What else is top of the list at this time of year on your
We got one step closer to
being ready for Winter with today's hose collection.
(Don't worry, no animals
were actually harmed during the creation of this post. I know I just
ruined the dramatic impact of the story, but I couldn't have kept reading without that warning, so there you have it.)
Wednesday morning, Mark and I were supposed to go to the big city to get
our teeth cleaned. Instead, we had to wrap our minds around the
possibility of killing a dog.
Over the eight years
we've lived way back in the woods, we've had only a handful of uninvited
human visitors (good job, moat!), but nearly an equal number uninvited hunting dogs.
It seems like when hunting dogs get lost, they can feel Mark's good dog
energy, and they come wagging their tails at our door.
Unfortunately, the two
dogs I found beside the chicken coop Wednesday morning weren't wagging
their tails. One was sweet and submissive, but when I went to put a
leash on her, the other dog growled and rushed at me with bared
teeth. Only standing tall and yelling with my voice in its deepest
possible register prevented me from getting bitten, and I quickly
retreated out of harm's way.
the sweet dog had an owner's number on the collar, and I was able to
catch his girlfriend on the phone. She said her boyfriend was
unreachable on a construction site, but she and her father would be
right over. We tied up Lucy just to be on the safe side, called
the dentist to say we would be late, then settled down to wait.
When I finally heard the voices, father and daughter were fleeing up the floodplain away
from the dog. "He's never acted like that before," the girlfriend
said, tears slipping out of her eyes. Her father explained that
he'd gone to put a leash on the dog, but had gotten bit for his
trouble. The teeth hadn't broken his skin, but the father still
told us: "If you have to do something to protect yourselves or your animals, we'll understand."
We knew what he meant --- shoot the dog. The trouble is, while we can be hard-hearted about chickens, dogs are people to us. Did I ever mention that my brother once turned off Old Yeller
partway through, telling me that was the end, because he knew what was
coming and didn't want to have to soothe a grief-stricken sister?
Killing a dog in real life seems nearly unthinkable.
But, as Mark pointed out
after the dog's owners left, we also have a responsibility to our own
chickens, goats, cats, and dog. The biting dog had been lost in
the woods for two days, and whether that was long enough for something
like rabies to turn up or not, we had to protect the farm. So we
called the dentist once again to cancel, and then Mark went around
checking on the state of our guns. We didn't plan to do anything
drastic while the dogs were simply resting at the edge of our core
perimeter, but if they went after something, Mark resolved to shoot
first and ask questions later.
Luckily, as I mentioned
above, this story has a happy ending. The dog's real owner
couldn't be tracked down, but his hunting buddy could. The young
man showed up with a heavy stick, which he thrust into the dog's jaws as
it came after him. And as soon as the man snapped a leash onto the
dog's collar, the canine calmed right down. It turned out that
the submissive dog was in heat, and the other dog was merely guarding
his territory, but a calm, familiar face was enough to defuse the
situation. In the end, both dogs went home safely.
The moral of the
story? Have friends good enough to face down a possibly rabid dog
to save man's best friend. Or, maybe, have guns on hand to protect
your homestead from four-footed beasts. I'm not sure what I took
away from the experience, actually, except for an overwhelming urge to
sit in front of a fire with a cat on my lap, sipping some hot
chocolate. But I will be more cautious the next time I approach a strange dog...because hunting dogs sometimes bite.
Today makes the 2nd goat
escape so far.
How bad are they when they
Not that bad...Artemesia
yells a bit, but they seem fine once we tuck them back in.
I was a bit disappointed by our goats' inability to eat a thicket of weeds to the ground,
but I've been thrilled at how well they do at cleaning honeysuckle off
our fencelines. Every evening, after walking the girls back to
their coop, I move five cattle panels into a new arrangement to prepare
for the next day. Two panels lean up against the
honeysuckle-covered fence, and the other three (and two fence posts and a
bit of rope) complete the enclosure.
The next morning when I
bring the goats to their new pasture, Abigail runs right for the
honeysuckle and Artemesia soon follows suit. They gorge for a
couple of hours, then chew their cuds, then gorge again. By
dinnertime, that side of the fence is bare of honeysuckle leaves
(although some stems remain, proving that the goats will have to regraze
the same areas next year).
For the sake of
comparison, the photos above show yesterday's fenceline (left) and the
edge of tomorrow's fenceline (right). After reading that
honeysuckle leaves are equivalent in protein and total digestible
nutrients to alfalfa hay, I can understand why our girls do such a good
job removing the wily vine.
Back when I was just
reading about goats, I hadn't planned to let our new livestock within
our core homestead. In fact, I was going to keep them at least two
fences away just in case the tame deer (which is how I thought of them)
escaped and headed for my precious apple trees. Now I'm thinking
that maybe I overreacted. The only goat escape from my
cattle-panel tractors has been when I didn't tie one panel securely and
our little doeling slid out through the gap...then grazed right beside
the fence until I put her back in.
Now I'm thinking that
goats are like chickens --- they don't want to put in the energy to
escape as long as you keep them fat and happy. The big question
becomes: Can we keep the honysuckle buffet coming all winter? Only
time will tell!
We used a kiddie pool
for the ducks when we
first got them, but it mostly got used as a place for frogs to meet and
mate this year.
Dumping the pool was bad news
for a bunch of late tadpoles, but we managed to transfer the above
cute newt to the Sky Pond for his new Winter home.
"Would you mind putting up an article about the pros and cons of making and using your Fridge Root Cellar?"
This is a very timely
comment because many of you are probably trying to figure out what to do
with all of those root crops (and fall fruits). I'll hit the
highlights in this post, but if you want to dig deeper, I've also set my ebook version
on sale to $1.99 this week so you can learn the rest of the story for
very little cash. (I guess that would turn your replica into a $12
root cellar?) And while you're over there, you'll probably want to snap up Low-Cost Sunroom, which is free today!
Anyhow, back to the
point. The advantages of our fridge root cellar are pretty
obvious. It was cheap and easy to build and it really works.
I particularly love how accessible the contents are --- the cook in
your family will be thrilled to be able to just pop open the door like
you would in a powered refrigerator and remove a few carrots or a head
of cabbage. And the dampness of the earth means that your roots
stay crisp and delicious for months after harvest.
The downsides are relatively minor, but they are
present. We use a very small amount of electricity to ensure that
the contents of our fridge root cellar don't freeze when outside
temperatures drop below the mid-teens Fahrenheit. If you lived in
Alaska, you'd probably have to do a lot more. And a fridge root
cellar won't do much during the summer months, so you'll need a different
storage method for your spring carrots. (I just stick them in the
real fridge inside.) Finally, youtube viewers
will call you white trash if you post a video showing how to build a
fridge root cellar, and your neighbors might feel the same way, so this
project is not for the thin-skinned.
I hope that helps you
make your fridge-root-cellaring decision! And I'd love to see some
reader photos of your own incarnations of the cheap root-storage device
if anyone's given our method (or something related) a try. Email me at email@example.com
and I'll share your root cellars with our readers (and maybe even add
them to the next edition of the book if they're unique enough!).
We retired some old hens
They made it to the ripe age
We had some escapes during
the process. I think that could be fixed by making the top of the kill
coop so we could open only one half at a time.
I've been noticing little snippets of cover-crop observations lately, none of which is quite enough to make its own post. But maybe you won't mind a hodge podge.
The photo above shows how the yellow jackets are swarming around unopened fava-bean buds. I assume they're stealing nectar somehow, a bit like the ants I noticed on okra flowers a few years ago. Presumably unrelated to the yellow jackets, our fava beans have been blooming for weeks, but keep dropping the ovaries without setting fruit, so they might not be a good edible in our location after all.
Then there's the observation two of you made in comments,
that the puny fava beans between my sunflowers are due to
allelopathy. I hadn't realized that sunflowers were allelopathic,
but the internet suggests that is indeed the case, and that water
dripping off sunflower leaves can carry chemicals that make surrounding
plants do poorly. I guess sunflowers aren't the best candidate for
multi-species cover-cropping campaigns!
My last observation is four-footed. Goats love oat leaves
so much that I've been earmarking a large proportion of that cover crop
for goat treats. I can't help it! I know the soil loves oat
biomass too, but when Artemesia blats at me, I give in and provide any
treat I can think of. In case you're curious, my ability to spoil
animals is nearly unparalleled....
I found several shitake
mushrooms hiding in the
They were a little too damp,
but a couple of hours in the Excalibur fixed that.
Didn't check back soon
enough and unread posts ran off the bottom of the page? See older posts in the