Bee hives wrapped for winter
Bee hives wrapped for winter

I know it is only the end of October but it is time to get the homestead ready for winter and all that means.  Here in the northwoods it means cold temperatures and snow, sometimes a lot of snow.  There will come a point when the daytime temperatures do not get above freezing for days on end.  At the heart of winter in January and February we can get below zero here at the homestead.

This week has been very busy with several projects getting done in preparation for winter.  As you can see from above one was getting the bee hives wrapped with tar paper.  I know it is not pretty but it serves the purpose.  On the left hive you can see the hardware cloth over the lower entrance.  This is to keep mice and voles out of the hive.  They would love to nest in the cozy warm hive with free food during the cold.  The tar paper keeps the wind from being able to get into the hive where the different super boxes meet.  Cold wind can kill a hive very quickly.  The black also helps to absorb what heat the sun will provide on cold days.  At the top you will see another small upper entrance.  When the snow gets deep the bees are still able to exit the hive to do a cleansing flight if we have an occasional warm day.

Bees only leave the hive when the outside temperatures get above 45 degrees or so.  That means that they are retaining all their excrement until such a day.  When there is a winter day that is warm enough they will all make a run to the outhouse.  The snow around the hive will be dotted with hundreds of brown spots where the bees have been able to relieve themselves.  To me as a beekeeper this is a welcome sign, it means that the hive is still alive and has made it through the winter, at least to that point.

Ken and I are really excited to attend the Maine State Beekeepers Association's annual conference in a couple of weeks.  It will be our first time attending and we hope to glean a lot of wisdom from much more experienced beekeepers.

We did the hives late in the week but the week started out with processing our broilers.  Again we had 25 Red Rangers on pasture from mid July.  I kept two of the hens and put them in with my layers.  One I call Buffy, she was an unusually light color so I wanted to keep her.  The other was just so she would have a familiar face when they were integrated into the laying flock.

The broilers that were processed earlier in the summer were all frozen whole so we decided that these would be cut up and frozen in pieces.  I packaged side breasts, leg quarters and wings.  It is a little more work but the packages sure take up much less room in the freezer than the whole birds.  I think we will like having the variety of chicken to choose from.

Part of why it was nice to have the chickens take up less freezer space is that this week was also when the pigs were delivered to the processor.  Although we process our own chickens we have not yet taken the step to do our own pigs.  Besides that we had FIVE this year.  That is a lot of pork.  Some were raised for other folks but we will still have plenty to fill the rest of the space in the freezers.

Getting livestock into the stock trailer does not always go as planned.  Thank the Lord that we were able to borrow a large stock trailer with two sections from a friend.  We knew that five pigs, all weighing over 250 pounds, were not going to fit into the two horse trailer that we own.  It is funny but each animal has their own personality and right from the beginning we had one that we called Lazy.  She would not go out into the yard when the rest did and she preferred to take more naps that the others.  Don't get me wrong, she ate just as much as the others but she was not as motivated by food at the other four.  There is the dilemma.  With a couple cans of food and a few apples the other four happily jumped up into the trailer to get their breakfast.  Not Lazy.  Fortunately the trailer had a middle divider that could be closed.  We closed the four into the front part of the trailer and started the long process of trying to convince Lazy that she also wanted to get into the trailer to get breakfast.

Long story short, and just to point out that animals cannot always be convinced to do what you want, we ended up having to dispatch Lazy, bleed her out, load her in the trailer with the tractor and take her to the processor that way.  This is not the way we would have chosen but sometimes you have to do what is necessary to take care of business on the homestead.

Homesteading is not for the faint of heart and sometimes you have to do things that you would rather not in a way you would rather not but that is the way life can be.  Do what needs to be done and move on to mucking out the turkey pen.



Well, it is finally here....Fall.  We had our first hard frost last week where it hit 24 degrees and we have had frost every morning since with the exception of the morning it rained.  Fortunately it is getting into the 50s during the day which is really nice if it is not too windy.  So the woodstove has been keeping us cozy on these chilly nights.  My husband is happy to see the frost come since it pretty much eliminates the pollen that causes his allergies.

Fall is a busy time on the homestead there are so many things that need to be done before the days do not get out of freezing temperatures and the snow flies.  This week the pigs will go to the butcher and we will be butchering the final batch of broilers for the freezer.  The pigs have grown very well and we feel blessed that our freezers will be full before winter.

We will have a good amount of pork this year and I think I will can some of it for instant meals.  Rich meats like pork and lamb when canned almost make their own gravy and are delicious in soups and stews.  I confess that sometimes I make a quick soup or stew when I get home from work by using one jar of canned meat, a jar of canned broth and one bag of frozen mixed vegetables.  This cooks up in less than 30 minutes and I can flavor it with the dried herbs and spices that I want.  I may also throw a batch of biscuits in the oven or toast up some sourdough bread and have one great comfort food meal.

We got 10 heads of cabbage out of the garden and so there will be a couple of large jars of sauerkraut fermenting in the very near future.  I will be adding just a little bit of purple cabbage from our last CSA pick up to our green cabbage and the sauerkraut turns out to be the most beautiful shade of pink.  To some that may sound weird but it doesn't change the taste at all.

Of course after the pigs and chickens are processed we have to clean out their pens and get those areas clean and dry for winter.  The pastured poultry electric net fence will have to be rolled up and stored for next year.  That was a investment that needs to be taken care of but it worked really well being able to move the pastured chickens several times during the season.

The fall weather gets me is a baking mood too.  I made my first apple pie with apples from the orchard that we picked up last week.  There is nothing better than a hot slice of apple pie with a scoop of ice cream on a chilly evening.  Unless it might be hot spiced apple cider which is one of my favorites.

Well, so much for talking about what needs to be done, time to get to it.  I'll visit with all of you soon.





Fall Sunrise
Fall Sunrise

Ok, before I get started I just wanted to show you a couple pictures of the sunrises her in Maine the past few days.  I have been very blessed to see them.


Fall has arrived here in Maine which for the homestead means that the pigs that we have been raising for the past several months will soon be converted into pork chops etc.  Since this will take up a good amount of space in our freezers it is time to get them cleaned and organized so everything will fit.

Part of this is to get all the fatback that been waiting to be turned into lard processed.  Yes, there are two years worth that I need to take care of.  Every year I say that I'm going to do it as soon as we are using the woodstove so that I can just put it in the pan on top of the stove and let it do it's thing.  You know how that goes though.  So this year I'm trying a new method and it seems to be working great.

Fresh from the freezer
Fresh from the freezer

I take the fatback out of the freezer and partially thaw it.  It is so much easier to work with if it is still partially frozen.

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Slice the partially frozen fatback with a very sharp knife

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I then grind the fatback with my wonderful grinder we purchased after I wore out two grinding attachments for my KitchenAid mixer.  I use a very large hole grinding plate so that you have pieces and not just mush.  This grinder has come in handy for so many things including making ground turkey after we butcher the turkeys in November.

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Using my turkey roaster the ground fatback is put in a 250 degree oven to melt slowly.  I stir it occasionally and it really doesn't take that long until you can jar the first rendering.  I use quart wide mouth mason jars for this.

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This is the set up I use when I fill the jars.  I have my funnel with a fine mesh strainer on top.  I ladle the fat out of the roasting pan through the strainer and then what ends up in the jar is really clean and smooth.  I tipped the roasting pan so that the melted fat would flow to the corner for easier ladling.  Just push the unmelted fat out of the way.  You need to have the canning jar lids in hot water and ready before you start to jar your lard.  As soon as you have your jar full leaving a 1 inch head space clean the rim really, really well.  Any little amount of fat will prevent the jar from sealing.  Put on your lid and secure with a ring.  Set the jars aside in a draft free location on a towel and let them be.

After you have gotten all the liquid off of the fat return the roaster to the 250 degree oven and let it render for awhile longer.  You will be able to get a second amount of fat to jar but this will not be the pure white of the first jars.  It will have a more yellow color and it will have a little bit of a "pork" taste to it.  The pure white batch is great for baking biscuits and pie crusts and all those things you want to be flakey but don't want any imparted flavors.  The second rendering is good for using with anything savory.  I use mine just like I would use bacon fat.  Cooking eggs, veggies etc.


After the jars have cooled completely check to make sure they have sealed.  The 250 degree hot lard should be enough as it cools to make the jars seal.  If you find any that have not sealed you can reheat the lard and try again or just put the jars in the freezer.  Those that have sealed are shelf stable.

I have also made my own salt pork in the past maybe I'll try it again with the fat from this years pigs.


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Well, it really wasn't too difficult in the end.  As I said last time it took most of one day to just get the foundation level for the framework.  It took another day to put the framework up. Finally it took me another day to get the door and windows put together and installed then the plastic walls and roof panels into place.  Now just so you don't think that this is too much work I want you to know that each of the three days that it took me was only about 4 hours each day and I had to spread out the days due to my work schedule.  If you had help you would be able to put this greenhouse kit together in one day.  Actually the instructions do say you need a helper for a couple of the installation areas but I used a ladder to hold these parts on one end while I worked the other end and it worked very well for me.

The clear panels are held in with metal clips which do hold it really firmly.  The location of my greenhouse is fairly closely to the house so if is partially blocked from winds by our house.  Still I was anxious to see how it would stand up to wind.  Right on que we had a pretty good storm here with winds.  I'm happy to say that the greenhouse is still standing.

Now I just have to get the rocky soil dug out from the interior so I can get good soil and compost put in for growing.

Super Blood Moon
Super Blood Moon

Many of you know because you watch the news that on the night of Sept 27, 2015 there was a total lunar eclipse that could be seen very well here in the northeast.  It was absolutely beautiful to watch as the moon moved into the earths path blocking the sun.  What made this extra special is that it occurred while the moon was in one of its closest positions to the earth which is what they call a super moon because the moon appears 14% larger than normal.  Because it is a total lunar eclipse and not partial  when the eclipse happens it gives the moon the red color thus becoming a Blood Moon.  What you are actually seeing is every sunset and every sunrise on the earth all at once in the red of the moon.  This was the final total lunar eclipse in what is called a Tretrad which is 4 consecutive total lunar eclipses which occurred all within one 24 month period.  The first was April 15, 2014, followed by Oct 8, 2014, April 4, 2015 and this final one on Sept 28, 2015.  It is not unusual to have lunar eclipses but it is very rare for 4 total lunar eclipses to appear in a row.

One other interesting thing with these dates is that each of the last 4 blood moon dates have occurred on the date of one of the Jewish Feast Days.  I encourage you to do more research on this I think you will find it fascinating.  There have been several times throughout the centuries where a Tetrad has occurred and the Jewish nation has had significant events in their history happen.

Almost Total (not really in focus still learning to use my camera)
Almost Total (not really in focus still learning to use my camera)