I'm sitting here with a cup of Chai Tea and it looks like we had another dusting of snow last night. We have had several snow storms followed by rain followed by sleet and then snow again.  It has made for a icy driveway but after a couple of warm days things are improving.  Let's just say that the grippers (for those not in snow/ice country they are spikes that you put on your shoes) are staying on for awhile.  The last thing I want to do is end up falling on my way to the barn.

There have been several little projects that have been completed over the last couple of months.

Fall Applesauce

My sweet husband and I have a tradition of going to the apple orchard late in the fall.  We wait until there has been at least one frost because the apples seem to be better then.  We have several apple trees planted here on the homestead but they are not producing fruit yet so we give a local grower our business.  We eat many of the apples fresh and I make a pie or two and of course apple crisp but canning applesauce to have the rest of the year is the biggest thing.  There is nothing like some of our home raised pork with applesauce for dinner on a cold winter evening.

Turkey Broth in the canner

After Thanksgiving my husband strips the bird and we put the bones in a huge pot on the wood stove to simmer for several hours.  I get the pot up to temperature on the gas stove then transfer it to a trivet on the wood stove where it will sit and get happy.  I then can the rich broth to use all winter as a base for soups and stews.  If you don't can please make broth anyway and freeze it.  Homemade is so much better than what you can buy in the store.  I can mine with no salt so I can season each soup or stew that I make with it to my liking.  I make broth every time I make chicken too.  This yields just enough broth of one batch of soup.  Usually I end up making my Tortilla Soup with that since it also uses the left over chicken in it.  I'll give you that recipe in another post.

Triple Berry Jelly

I had been collecting juice from a triple berry mix (raspberries, strawberries, blueberries) for several months and freezing it.  Now it was time to make jelly with it.  Earlier I had made a delicious apple pie jam that I found a recipe for.  It is low in sugar so the flavor of the apples really comes out.  I also made a jam with my ground cherries.  I just used the recipe in the box of pectin for berry jam.

After I finished the Triple Berry Jam I canned it is 4 oz. jelly jars and created a cute label for the top.  These became Christmas gifts added to bags with home made fudge and cereal mix.  It is so fun to make and give gifts from your kitchen.

My husband and I have been talking about a big project for next summer.  We do not have a basement therefore not a root cellar or any real cold storage space.  I use our spare room for our pantry and in the winter with the door closed it is really cool but that is not the case in the summer.  Summer and fall are our times when the cold storage is really needed especially when we butcher and process our poultry.  For years we have put them in big bins with ice but when you are processing close to 50 birds that is a lot of ice.  So we are looking into building a cold room.

The Ripley's, the young couple that we get our CSA from at Ripley Farm, have one for their produce so we started to do some research.  Come to find out the company that makes the device that turns a regular window air conditioner into one that will keep a room at around 40 degrees, CoolBot, has plans for building the rooms right on their website.  This might be a multi year project since we will have concrete poured for the foundation and then build the room.  We are planning on attaching it to the back of the garage so we can enter it from inside the garage.  No outside entrance means we don't have to keep the snow shoveled from in front of the door.

Not only are we planning to use it for the keeping our meat cool during processing but we want to make it into a year round cold storage where the canned goods and root cellar items could be stored.  The room will be super insulated and will be located where there will not be too much direct sun hitting it so our hope is that except for when we have meat cooling we will have to turn on the air conditioner very little.  There may also need to be a small heating element during the winter so that stored food does not freeze during the winter.  I'll try to keep you updated at things progress.

It has been nice getting updated.  I know the posts have not been very regular lately.  Between my and my husband's crazy schedule it has been a challenge.  I hope to be better in this new year of 2017.

Visit with you soon.



Theme for my kitchen remodel???



Mt. Katahdin
Mt. Katahdin

No matter what you call it you cannot live without it.

We have a well and therefore an electric well pump that gets the water from the well to the pressure tank, which is also electric.  When there is no electricity the biggest thing for us is that we have no water.  That, to me, is even worse than being a little cold.  Now if you know there is a storm coming you can get ready for the possibility of the electricity going out.  I do fill the bathtub that we have in the second bathroom.  They even make bathtub water storage containers. These are large bladders that will hold 65-100 gallons of water and fit right in the bathtub.  Some even come with a pump to easily move the water into smaller containers for use.  So far I haven't invested in one although they run around $20-$40.  I like the idea because it keeps the water clean and drinkable.  The water that I fill my tub with when we are expecting a storm is only used to flush the toilets with because no matter how clean your bathtub is I still don't want to drink that.

Berkey Water Filters
Berkey Water Filters

That brings me to water filters.  Some folks who are on municipal water systems have filters on their faucets or use something like a Brita to filter your water on a daily basis.  Fortunately we don't need to do that with our well water.  I have had it tested several times and it is more than safe to drink right from the tap.  My son lives in the Dallas, TX area and is on municipal water. He has a Brita type pitcher in his refrigerator that he keeps his drinking water in.  These are fine for filtering out things like chlorine and other bad tastes but they really won't take out the things that make you sick like bacteria, viruses and heavy metals.  For that you would need a filter system with more than just charcoal filters.  Although we have not invested in one of these yet either, I'm looking at a Berkey Water Filter.  It is a significant investment running between $200 and $300 depending on the size you get and if you buy additional filters.  I would recommend always having at least one set of back up filters on hand.  The Berkey uses two filters with room to expand to 4.  Water is filtered at a faster pace if you have 4 filters in your Berkey.

So, there is no storm but the power suddenly goes out.  It is always a good idea to keep a few bottles of drinking water stored for just such events.  I have a few gallon Poland Springs water jugs that I keep water in.  I try to change it out every six months or so.  These are not the milk jug type bottles but stronger plastic.  Milk jugs actually are not good to store water in.  They are made to eventually break down and will leak.  Not good if you have them stored in the bottom of your closet when this happens.  Soda bottles are actually good for water storage.  They are made to hold the pressure of carbonation so they are pretty strong.  If you drink soda wash the bottles out after use and fill with water.  If you don't drink soda, I bet you know someone who does, just ask if they will save some bottle for you.  Right now I don't have a good place to put filled soda bottles so I have just been saving them.  We drink very little soda so I save all that I get.  I'm working on some ideas and hope to have a spot to fill and store about 20 two liter bottles of water very soon.  It is helpful if you can store your bottles in a dark place such as the bottom of your closet.  Stored water can sometimes taste a little flat.  To rejuvenate it just take two glasses and pour the water between them a couple of times.  This puts a little air into it and helps with the taste.

We also have a pond and a couple of 3 season streams on our property but surface water is never safe to drink without filtering it.  There are many kinds of portable water filters made for camping and hiking and these are effective.  Each of my family members carry a LifeStraw with them at all times in case of emergencies.  You never know where you might be when there is a water emergency.

Although not hooked up yet we have the supplies, including the hand pump, to insert into the well if it looks like it would be a very long term power outage.  Barring any strange thing happening that would contaminate our well we know that the water is safe to drink.  You might want to consider getting something like this.  The pump we have was not very expensive and the pipe is just several lengths of PVC pipe and joints.  Don't forget the joint cleaner and sealant.  Eventually we will put this on the top of the well and build a small house around it so it will not be exposed to the weather.  We will replace the inexpensive hand pump with a Bison Hand Water Pump which are made right here in Maine and are very high quality stainless steel.

Take some time to review what you would do if you were unable to use your tap water.  It is okay to start small but please do something.





The barn through the snow
The barn through the snow

I know some of you around the country have been experiencing winter already but here in the northeast we had a very mild December.  It was a little disappointing to not have any snow on the ground for Christmas but it has finally arrived.  In the last couple of weeks we have had probably a foot and a half between a couple of storms and it is snowing again today.  Part of why my husband and I live in Maine is we love the change of the seasons, even winter.  I admit that fall is my favorite but I do look forward to the first snow of winter.  There are some years, like last, that winter seems like it will never end but it always does.

So, are you ready for winter?  Around here there is always a chance that the power will go out during a storm, well actually, anytime.  In the summer it is not such a big deal because it is not cold but it is still an inconvenience.  However during the cold months keeping warm during a power outage can be a challenge.

We use wood as our primary heat source anyway so that is simple for us, just keep feeding the wood stove.  Some homes have fireplaces that can be used for heat in an emergency.  It is important that maintenance be done regularly on a fireplace. The chimney, flue and damper need to be clean and in good working order for use.  If that is not a option for you I encourage you to look into alternate sources that do not require electricity.  There are kerosene and propane heaters available but make sure that you follow the instructions to the letter.  It is important that there is sufficient ventilation when using an alternate heat source.  I would also recommend that you have a carbon monoxide detector in the space.

Our wood box
Our wood box

Any heat source is only as good as the fuel it uses.  No matter if you are using a wood stove, fireplace, kerosene heater or a candle heater without fuel they all are useless.   We have a wood shed that is filled each summer for the following winter but if you don't use wood regularly but have a wood burning back up obviously you need to have some wood stored.  Likewise for a propane or kerosene heater.   Propane will store pretty much indefinitely.  You can store the small camping size propane fuel all the way up to 100 pound tanks.  It depends on what you are trying to run with the propane.  We have propane plumbed to the house but that is not accessible to hook to something else.  I have a couple of 100# tanks and the hook up hardware that we could connect them to either a grill or a heating device if needed.  We also have several of the grill sized tanks that we keep filled and rotate on a regular basis through the grill mostly.

Kerosene needs to be stored in containers just like those that gasoline are stored in.  They make ones that are blue to indicate that they contain kerosene.  If you go to the section where gas cans can be found at the store there would be blue ones for kerosene and yellow ones that are meant for diesel.  As we have talked about before on fuel storage be sure to rotate your storage regularly so that it will not get old.  How much you store is up to you.  Our third source of heat for our home is a heater that runs on kerosene that came with the house so we have a fairly large tank with kerosene in it.  We also have back up lighting in the form of Aladdin kerosene lamps.

Now on to the candle heaters.  I am intrigued by the idea of using a few clay pots, some bolts, washers, nuts and candles to make a room heater.  The link above takes you to several pictures of different versions of this idea.  I have not yet made or tested one of these but it looks like fun.  My son actually has a fireplace in his apartment but no source for wood so putting one of these on the hearth might work well for him.  So if you are going to go with something like this you of course would have needed to put together one or two of these and have the candles needed to produce the heat.  I buy jar candles at AC Moore.  They have good sales if you keep an eye out.  I usually just get vanilla since other scents seem to be a little overwhelming.  These burn for a long time as opposed so some of these designs that call for tea lights that burn out in a few hours.  It is always a good idea to have some candles on hand anyway.  Not only do they provide light and a bit of heat when the power is out it adds a bit of romance and fun to the situation.  Just make sure that you have safe places to put them so that children and pets can't disturb them and get hurt or cause a fire.

Speaking of fire.  Everyone should have a fire extinguisher and smoke dectors in their home too.  Hopefully you will never need it but if you do, you do.  However with that said, never try to fight a fire alone.  It is much better to get your family and pets out of the house and call the professionals.

Happy fire in our wood stove
Happy fire in our wood stove

Have flashlights and know where they are.  Store them in a easy to reach place and check their batteries on a regular basis.

Keep extra sweaters, blankets and warm socks on hand too.  I helps to layer up.  If you have a way to heat water drinking warm beverages also helps you to keep warm.  I keep a full kettle on my wood stove all the time.  Get out the board games and sit by the fire and play games by the light of the kerosene lamp.  It can be rather fun.

Let's talk about water next time.




Frozen drops on the trees

I am not one for making resolutions for the new year but every homesteader has a list of things they want to accomplish for the next year.  We are no exception.

I have already ordered the fruit trees that I will pick up at Fedco in April.  This year I have only ordered a couple of replacement trees for ones that we have lost along the way.  Our orchard is about as big as we want with around 14-15 trees.  We have planted apples, plums, cherries, pears and apricots.  Of course we have our perennial bushes too.

There is a inside project that I would like to start work on this winter.  It entails putting a wall up in the kitchen to create a butler's pantry.  That is the easy part.  I will have to empty a bunch of cabinets and store those things until the project is finished.  It also involves moving the refrigerator to a new wall and my hubby redoing the plumbing to the ice maker.  Once it it finished I will have somewhere to have all my appliances out and ready to use without clogging up the visible kitchen counters.  I'll keep you up to date as this project proceeds.

Garden planning also happens during the winter.  I got my first seed catalog almost a month ago.  Since I now have the greenhouse that will change a few things. Speaking of the greenhouse here is a picture of my sweet Zoe sitting in front of it's frosty side.  She always goes outside with me.


It will take a little work to get the greenhouse ready for planting.  I still have to dig up the existing ground and put in good soil.  Right now I'm planning on trying peppers there this next growing season.  I have great luck with getting the pepper plants started from seed but I just don't seem to be able to get many peppers.  My hope is that the extra heat created by the greenhouse will give them the boost they need.

Every year I look to improve my gardening.  I seem to have a knack for raising livestock but gardening is a different matter.  I think my biggest problem is neglect once I get things planted.  Time in the summer just seems to go by so fast and the weeds always get ahead of me.  I have started using mulch which has helped greatly.  Come this summer I am going to give landscape cloth a try under the mulch.  I have built three raised beds so I do not till the garden anymore.  Not tilling each year keeps the soil healthier and allows all the good creatures in the soil to flourish with only minimal disturbance.  I have enough materials for one more raised bed and my goal is to get that built this spring.  The beds are 20 x 3 feet so I can easily reach from each side.  There is a path between each bed.  It is surprising how much you can plant in this space.

We will not be raising pigs this next summer.  We usually raise several every other year.  Pigs do so much better if they have friends to hang out with so instead of doing one each year we raise them every other year.  The pastured poultry worked very well last year and we will continue that this coming summer.  If I get adventurous I will even try the incubator to hatch some ourselves.  And, of course, the baby turkeys will arrive in July as usual.

Asparagus berries
Asparagus berries

Our perennial beds will continue to prosper with care.  We have our 100 strawberry plants and our two asparagus beds doing well.  Those will both take a little work in the spring to pull out weeds, fertilize, and mulch.  We were truly amazed at the amount of strawberries we harvested this last summer.  I'm thinking I would like to experiment with fermenting some of the asparagus.  We like it pickled so why not.  I want to see if it will stay crisper that way.

The big outside project for this summer will be mixing and pouring a slab for our generator room.  Currently the generator is in the garage but we would like a dedicated spot outside the garage proper. The plan is to add a room to the garage just for the generator and the fuel tank.  I'm not great with cement but I have seen many projects where homeowners have poured slabs in sections as they had time/money to do it.  We will be looking for a electric or gas mixer to purchase before we start the project.  I can already name 2-3 other projects that we would use it for besides the generator room.

Wow, this sounds like a lot of stuff to get done in one short year.  No matter, we will get the projects done that we do but you have to start with some kind of a plan. Whichever of these projects that we get done they will be an improvement to things here at the homestead. Believe it or not, I'm looking forward to all of them.  It is so satisfying to make things better and knowing that you have done it yourself and with the help of friends and family.

May the new year bring inspiration to you and your family.



Nest awaiting spring
Nest in Beech tree awaiting spring

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.