Stockpiling for Winter

The leaves are turning yellow already. The birds are making their pit stop in Fairbanks as they head south. I’ve had my first cold of the fall. Yes, it is Fall in the Interior of Alaska, and I’m freaking out. We are not ready! Though, we never are ready.

We’ve been busy preparing for winter by putting up food. Stocking up on summer yummies so we can enjoy it when the snow blankets the ground. We are pickle kind of people. In the past few weeks, I’ve made pickled beets, pickled cauliflower, and pickled zucchini. This weekend, pickled carrots, pickled green tomatoes, and more pickled beets. Also, freezing and dehydrating kale for use late this winter.

 

I’ve also been out picking this blogs namesake, Alaskan blueberries. Smaller and tarter than the cultivated varieties that most are used to. The picking was slim this year but happy to have some in the freezer. Even have some blueberry-basil vinegar brewing right now.

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A few weeks ago, we raided our hives. A bit earlier than normal but we wanted to give the bees time to stock up on honey for winter. We want to attempt to overwinter them. We shall see how it goes since even 400 miles south of us (where we plan on overwintering them), winter is still long and cold. We got 3.5 gallons of honey which may seem like a lot but still doesn’t feel like enough when we plan to use it in place of sugar and would like to give some as gifts. I think we may have to get a 3rd hive next year.

 

A hawk was loitering by the coop this morning so no one will be free-ranging today or tomorrow. It appears that everyone out here wants to eat our birds which reminded us that we need to get them processed before someone else eats them. The ducklings are now rowdy teenagers, the drakes have got to go. The roosters are attempting to cock-a-doodle-doo. That is the next big to-do in our preparation for winter. It is a bummer because I have been enjoying our fresh veggies out of the garden. Dinners have been splendid lately.

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Permaculture.

I had heard of permaculture but had no idea what it meant until I read an article about it in Mother Earth News this summer. Turns out, I’ve been accidentally practicing permaculture for years!

Permaculture is the development of an agricultural ecosystem that uses less energy and resources and is self-sufficient and sustainable. In my mind, who wouldn’t do that? I have called it lazy, cheap, and resourceful farming/living but permaculture sounds more like you know what you are doing. Yeah, sure I planned all of this.

I collect rain water because it is free compared to the $0.08 a gallon I pay to have it delivered since we don’t have a well. However, merely collecting rainwater doesn’t make an ecosystem.

The rainwater is used to fill the duck ponds, duck water, and water the garden. The duck pond is also a substantial dog water dish (ewww), and for the puppy, the best way to drink out of it is standing in it (double eww). They have a plenty of dog dishes, but the ponds are their favorite. The pond water is used to water our Arctic cherry tree. According to the tag, it should start to producing cherries here soon. I highly doubt it, but I’m holding out hope. A grill that is no longer able to grill is now a goose-proof flower bed (tall enough the goose cannot reach to eat all of my flowers).

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The garden is used to feed us and the birds, saving us money both in buying the produce and duck feed but also gas by not having to go to the grocery store. The ducks and chickens maintain the weeds and keep the mosquito populations in check – they free range when we are home. We eat the duck eggs and the drakes. We’d love to keep them all as pets, but too many males disrupt the peace in our ecosystem. The chickens are for meat this year, but we plan on overwintering a few next year with the hopes that they’ll make more chickens the following year, so we no longer have to buy chickens. The birds also provide hours of entertainment. I never get tired of watching them.

One of the ideas of permaculture that this ecosystem supplies everything one would need “including entertainment to fuel”. Trees cleared for the house were used to heat our home. Much more affordable than heating oil though we use that too since winters here are long and oh so cold plus I like my house at 70 to 80. I can’t bring myself to set the thermostat higher than 60 though (oh so cheap), so the woodstove makes the house comfortable to live in. The trees we cleared last summer to expand our garden are going to heat our home.

The excess garden gets frozen or canned. Garden tidbits like stalks, roots, and such gets fed to the birds, this year made into stock or composted. I’m an oh so lazy composter and do the slow compost method which does cause a fly issue. BUT the chickens love hanging out by the compost to eat the maggots – gross, I know but PERMACULTURE! Shane just shakes his head and walks away when I say that to farm grossness. Like the dogs licking duck shit off the pavement. PERMACULTURE!

In the garden the last two summers, I have increased the number of flowers we have since we now have honey bees. Plus I hate having to hand pollinate, so I wanted to encourage my bees to make the trek up to the house. I love the increased color and watching our bees pollinate all of my plants. We eat the tomatoes and raspberries that our bees pollinated and honey they stored away. Also, notice that I used birch trees for part of the posts to make our garden fence.

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Part of permaculture is still retaining native plants and animals. Squirrels surround us in the woods. In the spring (when the cat refuses to go outside due to snow) we have bird feeders which also feed local moose (ugh). Occasionally, the neighborhood fox makes off with one of our birds, double ugh but part of living in the woods. Our bees take advantage of all the wild roses and wild raspberries. We enjoy both. Most of our lot is still heavily forested providing both shade and a buffer from the road.

Feed bags become weed control in the garden path. Dog food bags become trash bag liners. Wood crates scavenged from work became a chicken coop. An old dog run wrapped in plastic is our greenhouse. Boxes from a CSA have become drawers in our entry way. Old clothes become patches and rags. New sheets for us are old ones retired from the vacation rental. They’ll eventually become painting dropcloths or dog blankets. Old milk crates organize the back of my car, are cubby shelves in the garage, a seat for weeding in the garden, my office standing desk is made of them and old shelves, they are the perfect size for a small propane tank, and two milk crates and a 2×4 makes an excellent chicken roost. Uses for old towels are endless.

My husband calls me Half-Penny Hildebrandt [my maiden name] since I’m always looking for ways to stretch a penny or use what we have around the house. I guess my new name should be Permaculture Powers [married name].

Shane shakes his head and walks away. I triumphantly yell PERMACULTURE!

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Seasons Done Right.

Alaska does nothing half-ass. Fall is crisp, golden, brief, and foreboding. Winter is dark, cold, snowy, and pure magic. Spring is slushy, muddy, and full promise. Summer is hot but not too hot, the sun refuses to sleep, and it is simply splendid. The people soak up the sun as much as the plants do. We all thrive and push ourselves to exhaustion, knowing we will all get to hibernate here soon.

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The other day as I stood in the kitchen watching the big puppy splash in the duck pool while an annoyed flock of birds watched her antics and admiring my flowers, it hit me that it was the end of July. Where has summer gone? Then I thought of winter and snow and -40, then I went outside to lay in the hammock to soak in as much summer as I could before the snow flies. Yeah, I know I got a few more month before that happens but it will zoom on by as June and July have. Before I blink it will be January and I’ll be dreaming of summer.

22 jars of radishes on the wall

While grocery shopping this past week, I noticed they were having a screaming deal on radishes but didn’t have many in stock (maybe 2 bunches). I mentioned this to Shane as our radishes in our garden do okay but not enough to make radish pickles. They are excellent on sandwiches, but we haven’t made any for about two years.

I get home Wednesday to find that they had restocked them and that my husband bought 22 lbs. of them (weight post stem removal). I guess he has been jonesing for some radish pickles. He said he bought some, then decided we needed more so went back for a second batch. Then when getting beer, he decided we needed even more.

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I scrubbed and trimmed while he worked the mandolin. They then got to soak overnight in brine. A few we set aside to make radish kimchi. That evening I made three large jars of the kimchi.

The next night, Shane simmered the radishes in the vinegar seasoning. It took three large pots to hold them all. I hot packed the jars, and Shane got them in the water bath. By the end of it, we had 22 pints of pickled radishes. Thus this begins Summer 2017 Canning Palooza!

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Mid-Summer Aspirations

It is mostly in the summer when I have moments where I think that I would love to learn or do X, Y, or Z. Then the ducks are out of water, the dogs need dinner, and the garden weeded. Inspired by EcoFeminst, I thought I ought to start recording my homesteading goals so I can remember them. And perhaps one day accomplish them.

–> Perfect bread making. I can make basic bread, but I’d like to expand and get quick at it so we can stop buying store bought bread.

–> Learn how to mill our own flour.

–> Make our own vinegars.

–> Make vegetable, duck, and chicken stock from our garden and birds.

–> Get over my fear of the pressure canner so I can stock and beans. I may need to con my mom in helping me since she has done more of it then I have.

–> Dry my own herbs.

–> Grow herbs and greens year-round inside in Alaska! I’m going to even drag in a few of my tomato plants inside this fall to see how long I can keep them.

–> Overwinter our bees. Not an easy feat when you have -40F winters. Our current plan is to drive our bees 5 hours south of Fairbanks and put them in my parent’s old trappers cabin. The look on my mom’s face when I told her our plan was priceless. It was that or in her crawlspace at her home. 😉

–> Expand the garden, so we have enough to can and put away for winter. We pretty much eat as we harvest. I plant more, and we simply eat more. I need enough where we cannot out eat it.

–> Save seeds. This year I planted everything from seed. I’d like to eventually not even need to buy seeds but baby steps.

I’m sure I’ll think of more as I go. As for now, I have some rhubarb that I harvested that needs to be made into jam! Blueberry rhubarb jam, peach rhubarb jam, and salmonberry rhubarb jam, plus watermelon rind pickles are on the agenda today.

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Rub A Dub Dub a Chicken in a Tub

One of the chickens has some bathroom issues. She gets a poop build-up on her back end. Google has not been very helpful, most saying that it is a chick problem and they’ll grow out of it. She hasn’t. One suggested a possible yeast infection. It is pretty much diarrhea that gets stuck in her feathers but doesn’t block her vent.

Following a mashup of Internet wisdom, the chicken got a spa day. She was cooperative but not pleased about having her butt stuck in a nice Epsom salt bath. I tried to explain that this is a luxury but she was not convinced.

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After the bath, I made a chicken burito which in fact one day may be her fate (these are meat birds). By this point, she was pretty much game for whatever I had in store for her. Chickens are so much more chill than ducks are.

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Since hanging out in a towel in the laundry room was going to take all evening and we both had other things we’d like to do, I turned to blow-drying my chicken. This was, in fact, her second favorite part of the whole ordeal, she even started preening for me.

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She got some iodine on her backend before I stopped harassing her and allowed to go forge with her feathered friends (her favorite part). Hopefully, this works, and she won’t need a weekly bath though it wasn’t as bad as I feared.

Any other chicken folks have this problem? Any suggestions or tips on how to deal with this beyond Epsom salt baths and iodine on the rear?

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Inch by Inch, Row by Row, Gonna make this Garden Grow

It is hard to believe it is already the end of June and we still have 23 chickens and four ducks living in our garage. The coop is well underway, and we hope to get the birds moved in before we head to Seattle next week, it will make it easier for the critter sitter and more enjoyable for everyone. We salvaged a ton of plywood from some crates from work but needed to remove the pallet framing. It actually took us less time than I feared. The plywood will be the walls and the 1x4s for roosting trees. I think the coop is large enough for some chickens and perhaps one day two goats. One day.

While the baby birds spend their nights in our garage, during the day, we have started to let them free range with the big birds. The chickens are a little leery of leaving the safety of the garage whereas the ducks head straight for the pool.

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The chickens have also taken to emptying their entire feeder, making a huge mess. They’ve always been the clean birds compared to the ducks. It took us a little while to figure out why they were doing this. Shane had mixed their standard feed with rolled oats. They were digging the oats out of the normal feed to get at the goodies. We won’t be doing that again.

Everyting in the garden is going gangbusters including the weeds. I spent some time enjoying my tomatoes and lettuce while weeding. I started everything this year from seed, including the weeds. I’m pretty proud of myself, and it makes that kale taste oh so much better.