Click here to ask Jackie a question!
Jackie Clay answers questions for BHM Subscribers & Customers
on any aspect of low-tech, self-reliant living.
Read the old Ask Jackie Online columns
Read Ask Jackie print columns
Archive for the ‘Winter’ Category
Thursday, December 5th, 2013
They said it was going to snow pretty bad so we got ready, moving things we hadn’t gotten out of the way, putting the snowplow on the truck, making sure the animals had plenty of bedding and feed. Then it started snowing — inches per hour. And it snowed all day. Later in the afternoon, David plowed the driveway so he could get out to school (they still hadn’t cancelled it!) and Will started snowblowing the trails around the buildings.
If you’ve never had a snowblower and live in “winter country,” let me tell you how much work they save! Now we would never be without one.
Yeah, both Will and I have shoveled hundreds of feet of driveway and paths on the homestead. But Will’s grandfather also dropped dead shoveling snow, as do many people every single snow storm. Not only is the snowblower easier on you but it blows the snow in any direction you wish and leaves the edges of the clean areas smooth with no big berm that gets bigger as winter progresses…and also causes snow drifts to form.
We ended up with about two feet of new snow out of this storm and the temps are dropping to HIGHS of around zero all of this week. I guess it is lucky we got the snow first as it’ll help keep things such as septic tanks and water lines from freezing. But BRrrrrrrrrrrr! Hey Will, throw another log on the fire. — Jackie
Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013
Although we have had a great fall with little snowfall until now and relatively decent temperatures for northern Minnesota, winter’s definitely here. I’m just recovering from a real nasty bug and poor Will’s been trying to get things done outside to get ready for the big snowfall that’s starting to hit us. We’re getting 2 inches today, another 2 inches tonight, 2-4 inches tomorrow …
Since Will has the roof done on the barn, he’s trying to get enough lumber cut on the sawmill to put up temporary walls to keep out the snow so he can work this winter on the hay loft floor. (And so we can kind of use parts of the barn.) And then there’s the unfinished front porch roof … We’d like to get it covered before too much snow hits us. So while I’m working on an article today, he’s cutting boards in the snow. Luckily, it’s not too cold but we’re heading for sub-zero HIGHS later in the week. Yuck! — Jackie
Monday, November 11th, 2013
It’s getting cold. Tonight it’s going to be down around zero. Today, however, was beautiful — sunny and pretty. You may remember that Will carefully saved nearly all of those small trees he bulldozed while clearing part of the new 40-acre pasture. He and our friend, Eric, stacked them in two huge piles outside the horse pasture. That was more than two years ago. Those poles are pretty well dry and if left much longer, they will start to rot. We needed wood for both kindling and the kitchen range. We decided to start cutting them up; at first Will was going to go at it with the chainsaw. But even with a rack built to cut them more easily, it’s hard on his back. I suggested using the table saw he put together for edging the boards off our bandsaw mill.
Basically, it’s a gasoline-powered mini-buzzsaw. He wanted it gas powered so he took a good Briggs and Stratton motor off an old snowblower and rigged it to belt drive the heavy table saw our friend Tom gave me years ago. It works great for edging the boards and is more portable because we don’t have to worry about having a generator to plug it into. And it works great for cutting those small, long poles. Most are about 3 inches at the butt. The larger ones get tossed into a pile for chainsaw work, later on.
Will stands on one side with me on the receiving end. The pickup is parked off my right shoulder. As the poles are sawn, I pick up the pieces and toss them into the pickup. We are VERY CAREFUL around that saw as the blade is unprotected and dangerous. (So is a buzz saw, only the blade is five times larger!) So far, we’ve stacked four pickup loads of this little wood on our enclosed porch, right handy for the kitchen range and nearby for kindling for the living room stove. We’re real happy to get such good use out of a throw-away snowblower, a discarded table saw, and wood most folks would pile on the field and burn as trash. And our house is warmer too!
Yesterday, I went out and dug the last of my gladiolus bulbs from the garden (through four inches of new snow). The blooms were gorgeous this summer and I wanted to save them as they sure don’t over-winter here in Zone 3. I was afraid they would freeze in the ground and that would be the end. I was tickled to see that most bulbs had multiplied to at least two and often three very large corms plus all of the little cormels attached to the bulbs. (Those mini-bulbs are planted in a row, like beans. The first year, they make nothing but leaves. Sometimes the second year they’ll bloom a bit and by the third, you’ve multiplied your flowers by an amazing number.) Now they’re in the greenhouse, laid out in a shallow plastic box to dry before going down into the basement to store over winter. Looking at all those bulbs, I can hardly wait till spring! — Jackie
Thursday, April 25th, 2013
But we still have tons of snow on the ground — several feet! And mud and water running everywhere. Will’s been working on the rock wall behind the living room stove every day, knowing nice weather’s just around the corner. So far, he’s used 14 bags of mortar mix, and lots of rocks. I think it looks great. Imagine how much warmth those rocks and the concrete will hold next winter.
Meanwhile, I’ve been transplanting tomatoes and peppers like mad. I do them in Styrofoam cups. So far I’ve gotten three or four years’ worth of use out of the same cups.
But it’s been challenging because my left knee’s been giving me a lot of pain these last few weeks. I finally wimped out and got an X-ray and saw the orthopedic specialists in the nearby town of Virginia. Good news is that my knee won’t ever have to be replaced; it’s in great shape. Bad news is that I may have a torn ligament. Had an MRI this morning so we’ll see. Hopefully, it’s just inflamed and will go ahead and heal. I’ve got LOTS to do this spring and hate gimping around on it. It sure tires one out! If it is a torn ligament, the doctor said it’s a quick, easy fix and will heal fast. Considering the active lifestyle I’ve lived all my life, I guess I can expect a glitch here and there. I’m sure not complaining. — Jackie
Monday, April 22nd, 2013
We got 18 inches of blowing and drifting snow just recently, and winds up to 40 mph! And that was on top of the foot or so of snow that hadn’t melted. On the first day of the storm, Will brought in two little piggies that weren’t getting enough milk and/or were getting chilled. (We can’t run a heat lamp down in the farrowing shed because we’re off grid and the batteries won’t stand it.) The wood box was cleaned out due to Will working on the rock wall behind the living room stove, so I added a couple of old towels and put the piggies in it. Now I’m giving them a bowl full of calf milk replacer every 2 hours all day then getting up at night a couple times to feed them. At first, they seemed chilled so I filled up a gallon apple juice plastic jug with hot water and gave them a hot water bottle to cuddle up against. Now they’re warmed up and doing fine.
The little black and white boar was real scared and aggressive when I first picked him up to feed him. He’d bark at me and scramble to get away. But he quickly figured out that being picked up meant getting fed. Now he jumps up, right into my hands when it’s time to eat. We called him Jumper, for good reason.
Now we’re set to get another 3-6 inches of snow. Bummer. I got out my copy of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book, The Long Winter, to read. At least we don’t have it that tough! They were twisting hay to keep warm and ran out of food. We still have firewood and plenty to eat. But winter does get long…
The newscasters are calling this “The Relentless Winter” and it’s the most snowfall in Minnesota’s recorded history for April. — Jackie
Wednesday, April 17th, 2013
Okay, so it sounds like we’re getting depressed. Got that right! After getting a foot of new snow a couple of days back, we’re getting another foot right now. We got eight inches overnight and it’s still snowing. Sigh. We’ve got nice green tomato and pepper plants in the little greenhouse in the living room, but even they look depressed because they look out on all that snow.
I’ve lived in Minnesota on and off for a total of about 30 years but this is the longest winter I can ever remember! At least we’re not in drought now, so that’s something we can be thankful for.
Because he can’t work outside, Will brought in three wheelbarrow loads of rocks during our last thaw and is now starting in on the rock wall behind the wood stove in the living room. Right now it’s framed and he has stapled plastic backing, used chicken wire as re-enforcing wire, and then screwed in long screws, wiring the chicken wire to the heads to hold the wire out from the plastic.
There are sorted rocks all over the floor and six bags of cement sitting in the dining room. Pretty soon he’ll start in on the rock work. While that’s in progress, I’ll be transplanting all those tomato, pepper, and snapdragon plants into larger containers to sit in the big greenhouse windows. (Maybe, just maybe, spring will come eventually?) — Jackie
Tuesday, April 9th, 2013
Although the weather threatened (and later proved inhospitable), there was quite a turnout for the 2013 Earth Fest celebrating sustainability at Mountain Iron, Minnesota, this past Saturday. Held in three different buildings, the event attracted many new people to Backwoods Home Magazine.
Will and I talked to dozens of folks, some who had never heard of the magazine and others who were loyal fans and had traveled there just to meet us. We talked gardening, seed saving, alternative energy on a shoestring, raising animals, as well as the joys of homesteading all day. Whew, did we have fun. We also passed out some flyers for our August seminar to some very interested folks. (We still have five spots open.)
As we stood there visiting with people, we kept glancing out the window at the heavy, wet snow that was falling steadily. Oh oh. Just like Earth Fest 2012! And it kept on snowing all day. Luckily, it didn’t take much carrying to pack up at the end of the day as we trudged through a foot of very wet new snow to our Subaru.
As we drove home the roads got worse and worse. Luckily, the snowplow had been over the road halfway through the snowstorm. There was about eight inches of snow on the road, but it was drivable. Finally, five miles from home, the snowplow had turned off, leaving a foot or more of snow on the road. Very tough going with the Outback dragging in the snow and spinning on the slippery ice under the snow. We do love our ‘Roo!
We got to our drive and plowed on in. Whew! No robins yet and the beavers are snickering under the ice. We’re plenty tired of winter already. Come on spring! — Jackie
Monday, April 8th, 2013
Since we had no use for our bull, Mack, from our shorthorn milking cow, Lace, we decided to sell him as a breeding bull. I put an ad on Craigslist and a nice young family starting a dairy called and came out to see Mack. They liked him and we’d talked on the phone about taking an 8-week-old Jersey heifer on trade for him. Will and I both like Jerseys and were happy to get her. Luckily, Mack is tame and in less than half an hour was loaded in their trailer with no big problems. Now our new heifer, renamed Surprise (her previous name was Buttermilk), is living with the California girls (the goats from California). They are all leery of each other but are getting along fine.
Will used our big Oliver with his new concrete wheel weights to take the stock trailer down into the pasture as it is muddy/icy from snowmelt. Those wheel weights work great and the tractor didn’t spin even once coming back up the hill with Mack in the trailer. I was sad to see Mack go but am sure he got a good home and plenty of girlfriends.
Just a note: Our thrown-away windcharger is whizzing like mad making plenty of free energy. We can even run our freezer for long periods without starting the generator. We are SO tickled! Thank you so much Don for finding it and sending it to us all the way from Alaska! — Jackie