Thursday, December 6, 2007

Getting Ready for Winter


Winter has officially set in. It started snowing in earnest Saturday night and hasn't really stopped since then. Last night was our coldest night of the year. The temperature was into the single digits.

Luckily, I got some important things done before the snow hit. I finally got the last of the carrots out of the garden, but I unfortunately did not get a cover for my in ground storage areas made up. Next week looks like a bit of a thaw, so I plan to get a bunch of the carrots out and clean and cut them up. I've discovered the biggest problem with actually using food grown in the garden is the amount of time it takes to prepare it. We're all really used to just opening a bag and maybe boiling or microwaving food -- but usually not. This is not a new thing. My sister and I used to just eat frozen vegetables right out of the bag when we were kids, and at her house, she snacks on frozen french fries.

I really like those precut baby carrots, but I also really like the really good taste of my garden carrots. They are quite a bit of work, however, and if I didn't compost, I would feel really guilty about all the waste that I would be chucking out from tops and ends and ugly spots. An older couple I know were on a juice diet for a couple of years, and when they were in town for the summer, they would give me pounds and pounds of carrot ends and pulp and tops. My mother and I would go a couple times a week up to the house of our friend who at the time was keeping our goats and feed the carrot leavings to the horses and goats and chickens. I have gotten to the point where I get an absurd amount of carrots and cut them up and put them in like gallon plastic bags so I can pretend I have precut carrots.

Speaking of the goats, they finally have hay. This has been an incredible struggle the past couple of years. Last year, was really wet, and people didn't have a lot of hay. I finally found some around the end of November by actually just asking at the farm co-op who might have some. Luckily, the gentleman delivered, and he also offers a baling service which might come in handy if I ever get the back acreage cleared. It would be nice to have our own hay.

Of course, there were issues. Because that's what happens. I was so happy to have hay, it just didn't occur to me that there are really big differences in size between some bales and other bales. I initially thought fifty bales would be good, but then I listened to people's advice and just got forty instead!

Do you know the old saying? February Second, Groundhog Day. Half your wood and half your hay.

Wood was okay-ish, but hay was short. So I was getting a bale here and there from the feed mill for the last couple months of winter and spring. Don't get me wrong, it was really good hay. Third cut with lots of alfalfa, and the goats loved it. It was really good, big bales, too that lasted about a week, but it was still five dollars a bale.

If you are not familiar with hay, there are a couple of considerations (other than bale size). One is content, meaning the kinds of grasses that grew in the field where the hay was cut. You don't want hay that has weeds and briars and junky plants in it. Timothy is good hay. Timothy grass looks like little green mini cattails when it gets long. And it's really sweet, too. Timothy stems are almost as sweet as sugar at the tender base, and stereotypical farmers don't have wheat stalks hanging out of their mouths, but rather, timothy. The alfalfa that the goats like so much both as summer browse and in hay is a legume like peas or clover. It gets pretty yellow flowers on the end and has little leaves instead of blades. I'm a little leery of hay with a lot of clover, though. I once heard from an old horse trader that clover hay will ruin a horse's wind, but you know old horse traders.

People also classify hay as first, second or third cut, meaning the same field was mowed and hayed repeatedly over the season. First cut is usually preferable, I would suppose because of nutrient content. The grass grew from spring and has all the tops and seeds on it, where later cuttings would not have such a long time growing or the nice long blades.

This year, the warm fall let people make lots and lots of cuttings of hay. My neighbors who have a huge veal and dairy operation just green chop the fields around the house here, and they must have done it five times this year, including once just a few weeks ago. The weather was really good, after the initial droughty period, and we had enough dry spells that people could actually bale. I've even seen huge wagons stacked with hay that won't fit in the barn. The problem this year was money. We put in a new chimney and a new wood furnace in October, and cash has been very short. Hay has been on my list of things to get since August, but I needed to start teaching a little, and once I did, we had wood to buy and also just about every cent was tied up in regular bills and the stove thing. It snowed a few times, but there wasn't any hay for the goats, so I just took them out a few times a day and told them to find what they could find to eat. I still had grain, so it wasn't that bad.

Last week, finally, we didn't have too many other extra expenses, and I tracked down an older gentleman who had really nice big bales of hay. I had them save me forty --I know that wasn't enough last year, but these were really big bales about three feet long by two feet wide -- we borrowed my uncle's truck, got really lost on the way there and loaded all forty bales on the truck. It was kind of fun. The farmer's daughter was a genius of hay. She tossed the bales from the ground up to the top of the pile, and they would just jump into place. I got to crawl to the top of the pile on the truck and pack the hay and tie down the load. We made it home just when it was starting to spit snow.

We also got the Christmas tree for my grandmother's house put up. Our place used to be a Christmas tree farm, and there are lots and lots of evergreens in all the popular varieties. I like blue spruce, even though they are prickly little buggers. We sawed one down and dragged it up out of the woods last week. The bottom of the tree and all the trimmed branches kept the goats happy for some of our hayless days. We hauled the tree over to my grandmother's house on the roof of our station wagon. Very funny.

Next weekend, my aunt and uncle are bringing one of my cousins over to cut a couple trees for their houses. One of the best things about living out on the hill is getting to do things for the kids in the family. They can come over and fish and jump on the trampoline in the summer and this will be the third year in a row we've been able to give Christmas trees to anyone in the family who wants them.

The most important thing that we got done this fall was getting the new wood furnace and chimney. Our old wood furnace was really holey and rusted out. We kept it in the basement, and it sucked a lot of wood up and didn't really do all that much good at keeping us warm. We kind of got tired of hearing everyone we knew complain about how bad the stove was, so we had a gentleman from a local wood stove dealership come over and asked him to give us advice as to what kind of stove would work for our house. He told us our chimney liner was cracked and the actual cincerblocks around the liner were cracked, too, and there was no use hooking a new stove to an old, cracked chimey, as the new stove would burn out, too. A chimney fire had cracked the old chimney.

With help from the stove man, we were able to submit a claim to the insurance company which picked up a good part of the costs to fix the chimney, as it was a fire hazard that could take the whole house down. It was really kind of involved, but basically, the stove and chimney guy put a high temerature stainless steel pipe down the old chimney and surrounded it with cement. Because the insurance picked up so much of the cost of the chimney, we were able to consider also getting a new wood furnace. We got a Hitzer, practically the same thing as the old furnace we took out of the basement, and it has been amazing. We use less wood, and the fire stays lit all night and can be left for as long as eight hours at a time and still has enough coals to keep thehouse warm and restart the fire quickly.

Speaking of the wood fire, I definitely need to go and check it, as I like to skimp during the day so I can build it up in the evening when I'm just sitting and knitting. Wood is like bread. It needs a whole book to really even scratch the surface. So, that's where I'm stopping today.

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