Homestead Update for November and the first half of December
The beginning of November was still relatively warm, at least from the perspective of someone who is not only from the Michigan/Indiana area, but has gone four years without heat in their house in the heavy-lake-effect snow area around South Bend. Although most of the dedicadious trees had already long dropped their leaves, the oaks were the last to do so. In the spring, they were also the last to leaf out. In fact, earlier this year we were worried all our oaks were dead or diseased since every single other tree that leafed out but the oaks. But it turned out that their natural life-cycle is to leaf out later than other trees, and in turn they lose their leaves later than other trees.
It wasn’t until the middle of November that it started to get really cold at night. When it started to get cold, it wasn’t long before it was nearly unbearable. We hung blankets up in one room of the cabin, ran an electric heater, the dehydrator, all our electric lights, the computer, and every electronic item with a heating element to get as much heat as we could to get through the last couple of weeks of November till the December money came. Then we spent every spare cent on ordering a wood-burning stove. Of course, it’d be ideal if we could buy these things BEFORE we need them so desperately, but oh well, it is what it is. If nothing else, with every improvement we make, we really truly appreciate everything we get. Things that most Americans take for granted, we never will again. Everything will be precious and amazing. We didn’t even have electricity the first few months we were out here.
The woodstove didn’t arrive until December 8th. It came with some of the stovepipe for it, but I had to get a ride to town to buy the elbow pipe it needed. The next day, I went to my neighbor’s place to ask for help installing the stove, since he had done it for a living for years, and we didn’t know what we were doing. This was not something that we wanted to risk screwing up as a “learn-as-you-go” kind of thing. Tom (*all the names of my neighbors and friends have been changed for their privacy) and his wife Jessica* are awesome people. I have not been at their place a lot in the last year; that’s on purpose. Everybody out here moved to the woods for a reason, and it was usually to get away from daily contact with people. But when they have driven by, they always waved. Sometimes they stopped for a minute to chat. And when we needed help (either a ride to get food or water after the car broke down, or something more serious) they have jumped to help us. They are good people.
Unfortunately, I found out that I had not only bought the wrong elbow for the stovepipe, I had bought the wrong woodstove! They said that the size I got was so small it would not heat the size of my cabin. (See, I don’t have experience with this kind of thing all.) While I sat in their cabin, drinking coffee with them and enjoying the warmth from their woodstove, trying to figure out what I was doing to do, they decided they were going to give me their old woodstove from the second cabin on their lot, which functioned as a guest cabin. I was floored. This was incredible generosity!
On the 10th we finally got the stove hooked up. Tom* helped install it for us. We were so lucky to have someone nearby who knew what he was doing. My roof is way taller than his, so we had to get some new stovepipe units to make it taller. I didn’t know that it has to be above your roof or your house will fill with smoke because it can’t get out. We were broke; Tom* and his wife paid for it. Another surprise that I didn’t expect. Since the woodstove is older we had to use high heat chalk to seal a few of the seams that aren’t as tight as they were when it was first made. After letting it cure for part of a day, it was fine tho, and there was no more smoke from the seams.
The wood-burning stove is amazing, and its made a huge difference. At first we were having a hard time keeping up with cutting firewood, just being able to do enough each day to get us through one more night and the start of the next day. It didn’t help that most of it was not dry and seasoned. We ended up buying some in order to give us a buffer, and the dry seasoned stuff burns better, and the non-cedar burns longer. We need a woodshed, badly. We’ll try to build one this spring and keep cutting wood all year so its a little easier next winter.
Its arrival is important to me not just as on a practical level, but on a religious one. I finally have a real hearth, a literal altar of Hestia. So much of life changes when you get a wood-burning stove, and use it as your main source of heat. You’re kneeling in front of that stove every couple of hours in order to stoke it and keep it burning. It makes you understand the importance placed on Hestia in ancient Greece, even though there is little myths involving Her, She is the center of Olympos and of the home.
When the fire’s blazing, I’ve thrown a bite of my meal onto it as an offering to Her, just as the ancient Greeks did. There’s something so beautiful about respecting that gifts of the Fire that way.
I was devastated a week later to hear that Tom* and his family are moving, primarily because of drama with some other people who live on the hill. They were definitely my favorite neighbors, and the easiest to get along with. But I guess that’s why they were okay with giving me their old woodstove, since they knew they were leaving. In any case they gave me the best possible Christmas/Solstice/Yule gift.
Got a rooster at the end of November! My neighbor Joe* got him for free from his boss, but he has too many roosters already so he gave him to me. I had mentioned that same day to Joe’s* wife Stephy* that we were hoping to get chickens soon, and suggested that maybe we’d buy some from them. It was good timing, since I didn’t expect him to drive up to my house that same night with a rooster in a box!
We were told that he’s a Rhode Island Red, but after looking at pictures of the different breeds in some of my poultry books, I think he’s actually a New Hampshire. Either way is good, they are both good dual-purpose homesteading breeds that give a good amount of eggs. Both are good foragers, which means I don’t have to feed him every single day, because he finds a lot of bugs. That saves me money. Rhode Island Reds are cold tolerant. New Hampshires are cold tolerant and heat tolerant, which would be wonderful for this area because we do have hot and humid summers. New Hampshires give brown eggs. He’s huge, at least 8 pounds, maybe even 10 pounds or so, and he is just beautiful. His feathers are bright red, he’s gorgeous. You’d think that with the brightness of his color that he wouldn’t be able to hide in the trees, but somehow he does.
Alex actually didn’t get to see the rooster until December 5th, because he’s mostly been hanging out in the trees. But almost every morning we are woken up by his crowing. It’s a great feeling, like we are finally on our way to being a real farm or homestead. Two dogs and a rooster is not much of a farm, but its a start, dang it. Its a start.
I’ve been becoming acquainted with some of the other neighbors who live on the hill, and one of the older couples here has some Kochins that they are planning on breeding this spring. I will probably end up buying some hens from them, and another neighbor. I’m going to try to get one hen earlier than that though, because I don’t believe in keeping just one of any species of animal, but especially of something that should be in a flock or herd. Another rooster would fight with him, but I’d be okay with getting a hen that’s too old to give a lot of eggs, just to keep him company during the winter. Hopefully I can figure something out soon, like in January or so.
I had to quickly rig up a coop with what we had, and even though I made him a nice nest in there and left him cracked corn, he doesn’t like it. I guess I can’t blame him, it’s not the best thing I’ve ever built, and it’s certainly not predator-proof. For the first week he just roosted in one of the big cedar trees. After a while, he started to hide under our cabin. At first I wasn’t too happy about it, but decided to let him use it over the winter. I don’t want the chickens to be under the house permanently, because I won’t be able to get the eggs the hens lay! But for now, if it keeps him warm, sheltered from the wind, and safe from predators, fine. He can use it, and so can the other hen I’m going to get. In the spring, like March or so, I’ll block off access to under there. He’ll be pissed. But I’m gonna have to do it before I get the rest of the flock; they are going to do what the rooster and the mother hen does! It gives me 3 months to get a better coop/aviary area built.
Compost and herb spiral
I took apart one of the compost bins to shovel all the compost out and put it all into the herb spiral. A few months ago we put one of Alex’s old ripped up t-shirts into it to see what would happen. It was 95% cotton or so, and it was completely disintegrated. All that was left was the elastic that went around the neck and arm-holes, and the front pocket. It was amazing. NOTHING is wasted here, everything has a use, you just need to find it.
In The Kitchen
The lemon balm is completely dry now. The plant itself finally died back at the beginning of December. It actually survived a couple of hard frosts, but only a few. Its perennial so it’ll be back. But the lemon balm that was picked and hung up inside to dry has now been taken out of the paper bags and stored in our extra glass jars. I’ve been cleaning and saving glass jars that food like Alfredo sauce or salsa comes in, and anything that comes in poor packaging like cardboard gets moved to something safer and more permanent. I also save spice shakers and metal tins. Sometimes I specifically buy foods that come in tins so I have some organizing stuff to use when the food is gone. Extra bang for your buck!
We’ve also gotten good at making food from garbage. I’m not taking about dumpster diving (not that I’m totally against that). No, I’m talking about making food from the part of the animals that most people throw away. Like bones — and I don’t mean for dogs. Those chicken and turkey bones that you are throwing away may not be safe for Fido, but they make FANTASTIC stock. If we don’t want to make stock right away, it’s easy to save: put it in a Ziploc and throw the baggie into the freezer! Homesteading is about using everything, and nothing, nothing, gets wasted. Now that we have a woodstove, after all the flavor is sucked from the poultry bones, they get thrown into the fire in the stove. Burnt bones are good for the compost. Its a type of biochar, and bone meal (as well as fish meal) is one of the big ingredients in commercial plant fertilizer. Of course, beef and pork bones after being soupify-ied will be given to the dogs. Citrus peels are another form of “trash” I use. I save orange, grapefruit, and lemon peels and dehydrate them. The dehydrated peels get used in my homemade tea mixes.
There’s more to talk about but it’s been taking me too long to write this as it is, so I’ve just decided to post it and contintue working on the other stuff for another report. Happy Homesteading, and a Happy Holiday Season as well!