Thursday, 29 November 2012

Firewood Failure

Many of you already know that I have been struggling to gather enough firewood together.
That goes for this year as well as years past.
The story is that each year I get better at bringing wood in.
What happens is that I spend the saved time on some other project and end up relegating the firewood to the last minute.

Over the years, I had always hoped to be able to do wood during the Winter.
Normally, there is more time available and there are some advantages to wood cutting during the colder months.
The problem in the past has been poor timing with the snow and it builds up before I have had the chance to keep the trails open with our tractor.

This is the first year that I have had the opportunity to keep the trails packed and open.
Only it turns out that even a small amount of snow in the forest renders the tractor useless.
There is still a huge pile of wood that is seasoned and ready to be skidded out,
but my rigging won't do the job with snow on the ground.

The plan had been to do the wood during the Fall.
The Fall, however, was busier than planned and only now when it is too late do I find out that the tractor won't do it's job when I need it.
It slips and slides too easily, and though chains on the tires might work, they may not help enough.
The tractor is light and lacks traction.
And besides, tire chains are quite pricey; even to build myself unless I can salvage some old chain on the cheap.

The little chains I have on there now are enough to take care of the driveway during the Winter.
They have proven inadequate for our steep and winding trail system.
I tried to make it happen but abandoned the job.
It was frustrating to finally have the time to skid more logs out only to leave the bush with nothing.

It's not that we have no wood.
I have managed a good pile of logs when there were a few spare moments for a run into the woodlot.
But there is a lot in there still.
Now I need to figure out how I would ever log during the Winter.
A great big new 4-wheel drive tractor would be fantastic but utterly expensive.
Old skidders come up for sale cheap every now and again but that's for a rig that needs help.
Animal power has always been a consideration, but I'm not convinced of the net benefit.
I would want to be using draught animals daily to justify their keep.
In the meantime, fuelwood has become an issue once again.
So it goes.


Wednesday, 28 November 2012

A Gyrfalcon

We are quickly becoming familiarized with chicken predators of all types.
I'm not too sure which ones we haven't dealt with, but the list can only go on for so long.

Having actually captured and released a Northern Goshawk was a major highlight.
Killing the weasel by hand was a definite rush.
Losing our birds is never fun, but it is enrichening to experience wild animals up close.

If I ever get the chance, the fox will be killed.
I'm not proud of that, but it's been a long time and so many birds lost.
We probably won't try trapping, so the fox will need to be caught in the act of chicken theft to be dispatched.

Today I let a predator go.
I could have taken an easy shot and knocked this bird down.
Auren asked me why I didn't.
Well, there are lots of chickens and not so many of these.
Shooting it would have been a thoughtless waste.

Our birds all took cover and made the characteristic noise they make when attacked by an aerial predator.
I scanned the trees looking for the culprit; no sign.
But a strange flapping from the ground nearby gave the intruder away.
It was too late for the poor hen, but the attacker heard me coming and lit on a fence post.

I had a good look.
The Gyrfalcon didn't think I'd shoot; but I did.
A single round was a warning to leave.
The falcon flew to a tree.
A second round followed to indicate how very serious I was about the falcon leaving.
The third was still necessary since the bird wasn't keen on leaving.
With the message received, I checked on the victimized hen.
She was too badly injured so I took her inside for supper.
A prime young hen; but at least we had the meal.

I'm not really familiar with bird migrations, but I suspect the hawks and falcons are making their way south right now.
We've never seen a Gyrfalcon before; it really was a treat to see so closely.
Catching it would have been even better, but that opportunity is rare.

I expect to become better acquainted with all sorts of rarely seen predators.
After all, our yard is bait.
Instead of gunning them down, we should take the chance to enjoy the experience.
It's definitely worth a few chickens.


Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Sweet Potato Chips and Wreath Making, by Kira

Today we hosted our homeschool group.
The afternoon started off with
chicken noodle soup, homemade sweet potato chips and
hot apple cider.
Then we hiked in the woods, collected seed pods, dried flowers,
and other bits and pieces for wreath making.
When we returned home, Andrew had started some wreaths for us.
He twisted juniper vines into loops and then
fastened them with copper wire.
Others from the group did more elaborate wreaths
using a wire form and attaching spruce boughs.
Some of the kids decorated the wreaths while others played.
It was an easy-going day;
some crafting, lots of good food
and great friends!


Monday, 26 November 2012

Hands-on Hogs

Today marked our first official workshop.
We welcomed Tim Weatherup,
owner and operator of The Night Kitchen Pizza Shop, in downtown Peterborough.

The goal of this workshop is to offer a hands-on demonstration of home hog processing.
While this bounty is for our family only, we are still able to share the knowledge and experience with others who may raise their own hogs one day.

Tim is a long-time restaurateur who has a deep passion for unique and quality foods.
The path of a foodie like Tim leads invariably to the question of where food comes from.
In the current agricultural systems, the questioning fosters a desire to take more control over the food that we eat.
It is one thing to read about how meat goes from hoof to table, yet quite another to see it done first hand.
This isn't how the factories do it, but it is how it would be done by a family able to raise meat at home.
There are many reasons for choosing to process animals at home instead of government approved facilities.
Commonly, many people feel an obligation to take responsibility for eating meat.
And that means coming to grips with those parts of the process that are uncomfortable to witness.

Aside from moral reconciliations, providing home grown meat for the family is far more satisfying than simply buying it at the supermarket.
The culmination of the work involved results in pride and adds value that cannot be measured by dollars.

And though the pork would have to wait,
there are many other sumptuous treats from the Autumn harvest.
We even had doughnuts to reward us for hard work on a cold day.

Tim makes great meals for his family and customers.
Now he would also like to spend time growing more of his own food.
Gardens are familiar to most people but meat production has become increasingly mysterious.
Tim came to us for a real-life look at slaughtering a hog at home.
Not only did he leave with a new perspective on home-grown pork,
but he left empowered with knowledge of how to take responsibility for the meat he eats.

Thanks for spending the day with us Tim!


Saturday, 24 November 2012

Out of Time

It's hard to image Winter holding off much longer.
Normally, I use the end of the deer hunt as the deadline for having all of the Winter prep done.
That means firewood in, yard cleaned up, house winterized, vehicles serviced, and so on.

This year has been unlike any other for our family.
We're larger, and fully engaged in turning our dreams into something tangible.
That adds up to a very busy year.

In our blog, I try to strike a balance between being perfectly honest, and trying not to complain.
I like to be honest about our experiences so that others know the grit that comes along with homestead life.
I like to keep my complaints to myself because we have so much to be thankful for.

Tonight I'd like to be honest.
We have reached a bottleneck where Autumn turns into Winter.
Time has run out to get everything done.
Everything is most certainly not done.
We are working as hard as we can and the tolls of labour are turning up as short tempers and sore bodies.
This lifestyle often leaves no room for recreation and relaxation.
Though there is solace is in work that is rewarding, fulfilling, and enjoyable.

But it feels like the home stretch.
Just a little longer and we can take a breath and look back over a long Spring and Summer that saw so much accomplished.
Just a little longer...


Friday, 23 November 2012

Farm Work

Our business has taken on a life of it's own and seems to be pulling us along.
In addition to the products we offer at our own homestead, our skills are taking us to other farms.
Farm work is never done and there is always the need for an extra hand or two.
But I never imagined that we could fit so well into a culture from which we never hailed.

Farmers are notorious for always being behind on their work.
It's not for the lack of ambition or work ethic.
It's just that the farm encompasses so much more than just farming itself.
There is equipment and infrastructure that must keep up to the ravages of use and time.
And that requires time in itself.

I have spoken about our lifestyle being more challenging because we are not part of a wider community of similar households.
In an era of centralized, corporate agriculture, the traditional farm also suffers from community erosion.
Farms are gradually dispersed by housing development and others are left fallow.
The fabric of farming communities has been worn threadbare,
leaving the remaining hardy souls with fewer neighbours to rely on when needed.
It doesn't take long to fall behind.

Farm profit margins are thin outside of the subsidized sectors.
That doesn't allow much room for more hiring.
We are filling in where there is a need.
And gaining experience rapidly in doing so.

We could have built our farm on our own and been insulated from the greater farming community;
but not without the loss of over a century's worth of insight.
There are so many old farmsteads out there with a rich history of trials and successes for the families that have lived the agricultural life.
And with that history comes a glimpse into our own future.


Thursday, 22 November 2012

Gaia Farmhouse Retreat, by Kira

Today our homeschool group visited the Gaia Farmhouse Retreat.
We started off gathering in a circle among tall coniferous trees.
Carol Kilby led with a story of the Big Bang.
We sang and played instruments.
The kids had a chance to act out the story with Carol and then draw pictures of their favourite part.
After the story telling we were taken through the Cosmic Labyrinth.
There are 34 stations that tell the of the creation of the universe.
We walked 14 billion years back into the spiral,
reaching the Origin at the centre and then back to out to the present.
The kids and I had a great time.
It was a very warm and welcoming visit with Carol.
I would like to take the kids back again.

Thank you Carol Kilby and Paul Irwin for welcoming us to your retreat.


Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Firewood and Fermenting Food, by Kira

This is my husband. He is splitting firewood and yes it's this
Winter's firewood. Am I worried? No, he keeps us
Warm every year.

This is where I am. In front of a hot fire checking
Out my new book on fermentation. Beer,wine, kimchi, yogurt
And Kefir.

First to try is the kimchi and the hard cider. Kimchi is a tasty Korean dish
That is served at every Food Frendzy. It is so delicious, I will post a
Recipe in a week or so (this is how long it takes to ferment).
We will also post on food fermentation and the benefits
Of eating live foods!
As for the hard cider that will be for Andrew and I to drink once
Our wood is in.


Tuesday, 20 November 2012


I would like to introduce you to my hero.
Though there are many real life people whom I admire,
this character embodies the spirit of resilience that I look up to.

This is Shu from a video game and anime series called Blue Dragon.
Japanese games tend to develop a great deal of depth in their characters,
and Shu is one of the strongest I've encountered.

As we define our lifestyle and our purpose, Shu comes to my mind often;
especially when the challenges become seemingly insurmountable.
His mantra is to not give up, ever.

I'm writing about this tonight because we met someone today who told me the same thing.
As we talked about the goals we have for our family and community,
he said don't give up, ever.

I often wonder about all of the back-to-the-land movements over the last five decades,
and why they seemed to fizzle out and never generate the inertia needed to exact a greater change in our culture.
It's the old story of the hippies who turned into yuppies.
Why did they give up?

Today I said that I hoped that our family would persevere and see our goals through to the end.
Our guest told me not to hope.
Hope is for people who look wistfully at an unknowable future.
To act is to transcend hope and forge the future rather than allowing it to unfold without you.

Against all odds you make the future.
Not only do you actualize yourself but your environment with it.
Shu knows that.

It's how I feel everyday.


Monday, 19 November 2012

Ready for Pork

It's mid-November now and not only has the weather cooled down, but the hogs have gained enough weight to be brought in for the Winter.

Also, they become large, and unruly during feeding time and it gets tiresome dealing with their poor manners twice a day.

And, they eat quite a lot and I'm ready to eliminate that expense until next year.

It is a lot of work to turn hogs into pork, but that's because we are still learning.
I bet that after a few years of this, we'll be bringing pork in without as much struggle.

We have the tools that we need.
Though I could use another building.
We have the experience from four previous hogs.
But many of the challenges haven't been adequately resolved.

The plan is to start with this year's pigs.
There are two leftover from last year and they are massive.
We'll get some practice on the smaller ones before trying to handle 400+ lb sows.
Even then, I don't think our current system will work with the older animals.
I have strengthened the hanging pole but the older pigs are wary and not easily fooled into their own demise.
I expect trouble.

For now, we are sharpening knives and rearranging things to set up for butchering.
It is illegal for us to sell our meat but it is permitted to kill and butcher meat for your own immediate family.
The reason we raise hogs is to provide us with meat that we have controlled from beginning to end; it's certainly not a money making venture.

After we're through, there'll be a large freezer full of roasts, chops, ribs, ground pork, bacon, and various other cuts.
We ran out of pork early last year.
This year bodes well for a larger stock of frozen meat.

I'm not looking forward to late cold nights in the cooler cutting up whole hogs into family sized portions.
But the promise of tasty, wholesome meat for the better part of the year is enticing enough to get me to keep at it.
Especially the thought of bacon on a snowy Sunday morning in December.


Sunday, 18 November 2012


When we work on the details for going off-the-grid, one of the most difficult problems is how to accommodate a welding machine.
Self-sufficient living demands the ability to repair as much as possible,
and on the homestead, repairs are part of each day's routine.
The welder may not be used everyday, but I couldn't imagine dealing with repairs without one.

There are many types of welding machine.
The most common unit found in the back corners of barns and shops everywhere is a simple AC welder.
These are fairly limited in terms of weld technique variety, but for basic repairs and fabrication,
they get the job done as well as any other type.
Also, they come cheap if you're on the hunt for one.
Free in many cases.
The unit pictured draws a maximum of 45 amps from the electrical panel.
On the output side is a max of 225 amps, which is plenty for most tasks.
The 45 amp peak draw is modest compared to many appliances such as the stove or space heaters.
It's a lot of electricity in one short pass, but it only lasts a moment, unlike baking a cake which draws for the better part of an hour.
The actual draw of this welder would depend on the size of the material being worked on, and in most cases would be much lower than the advertised peak.

When I talk about welding there is a line that I always use:
More than half of the skill of welding is the ability to select the right electrode and correct settings on a machine.
(The electrode in this case is the 'rod' or 'stick' that is consumed during the process and has a number stamp which identifies it's properties.)
And though I don't wish to diminish the complexity and depth of the trade itself,
basic at-home welding is easy to master once you understand how to adjust settings and which electrodes to choose.
These AC machines will only work well with a small selection of electrodes, so once you have found the type that you prefer, any further challenges will have more to do with the repair jobs themselves and have less to do with the welding rigging.

On a busy homestead, you cannot be held back by the inability to make simple welding repairs.
A well placed machine will solve a major problem in mere minutes.
Even if it's not a proper repair, simply getting out of a jam is often what is really needed.
Or maybe it's a special tool that you need right away.
Keeping metal scrap and junk around can turn waste into valuable technology with some creative innovation.
But you need to have the welder on hand and prepared.
Make sure the welder is at the outside edge of a shop and not in the back corner.

As for going off-grid?
I would be sure to have a diesel (bio-fuel) generator available for short bursts of high current electricity that typical solar or wind systems don't have the capacity for.
A welding machine plays a key role in keeping equipment going and making the best use of metal waste.
No farm or homestead should be without one.
There will always be a place for the highly skilled tradespeople who specialize as welders.
But for the quick fix that can save you time and money,
basic welding equpiment and skills are invaluable.


Birthday! By Kira


Happy Birthday to my handsome husband!
We love you.