Fall Readiness

It’s time to start planning. Don’t we all, and most of the time? Each morning as I open my eyes, stretch, smell the crisp cool air, I begin to contemplate not only the day’s needed activities, but start planning for fall and winter. It seems like summer is barely gone. Fall is beautiful, the colors, the cool respite after a long, hot summer. But, soon to follow are the harsh cold winter months. Living on a farm is glorious, but it sets off a whirlwind of activities that absolutely must be done before winter coldness puts a stop to it.

We’re busy gleaning the last of the garden. Ripe tomatoes are picked daily and frozen until a large enough batch is ready to can. Squash and pumpkins are beginning to turn their lovely shades of yellow to orange, the corn is being harvested and the garden, slowly, but surely is being cleaned out to receive her yearly dose of compost and manure. This year we will plant cover crops on top of the garden for green manure also. I have turnip seed and buckwheat to sow. Our rabbits, chickens, ducks, geese and goats will appreciate that feast as it grows. And, our garden will benefit from the nitrogen content of the plants as we till it under next spring.

But, planning ahead, we have a list of other things that need to be done. I suspect that this list could and would apply to those who live in urban areas too.

Water. water barrel on palletThis is at the top of the list. Water storage for the “what if’s” that happened more time last year than we’ve seen since the ice storm of 2007. What if you are suddenly without power and are unable to draw water from your well? Do you have an alternate means such as a hand pump that will work for your depth of well? Hand pumps on deep wells are available, but try to pump water from a 180 foot well. By the end of the power outage, you will have excellent deltoid and trapezius build. Do you have a generator? A wind mill? A well bucket? If you live in the city and depend on municipal services, many times they don’t fail, but how many times have you experienced “boil water” orders? In the event of a natural disaster, how reliable will your municipal water supplier be?

 How much water do you need? That depends. Most sites recommend at least 1 gallon per person per day for drinking and minimum sanitation. Quite honestly, for our personal needs, this isn’t enough. What we do, and this is a personal preference, is to store at the bare minimum, 2 gallons per day. We also keep our swimming pool filled summer and winter. Our pool has about 7000 gallons of water, which will go a long way in a power outage.  Swimming pool water is not potable for humans, but it is an excellent water source for the farm animals since we don’t have a pond…yet. The pool water can also serve for bathing and commode flushing if needed.

Storing water. How? In almost anything. Glass and food grade plastic are the most common choices. Long term, bulk water storage requires a little extra. It’s at this time of year that we empty, sanitize, refill and add 8 teaspoons of bleach to a 50 gallon, food grade barrel, cap and store on pallets.

Food.nutty squirrel Again, the amount to lay back depends on the number of people in your family, finances and room to store food. There are several food storage calculators online. The one we find most useful is  http://lds.about.com/library/bl/faq/blcalculator.htm .  One must take into consideration special needs of diabetics and those on other diet restrictions, infants, the elderly, and your own personal likes and dislikes. A key factor to food storage is to keep it fairly simple, easy to prepare, allow variety, wholesomeness and nutritive values. I’d not recommend storing a year’s supply of pizza, even though it truly is a healthy food, when you look at it’s contents. Many people think that food storage is a bulky task, hard to find places to store. It truly isn’t. Space under beds, couches, even behind and underneath dressers or entertainment centers is a possibility. I’ve seen closets converted to pantries, and even bases of kitchen cabinets made with hinges on the baseboard and canned goods stored under those. Those with basements are indeed blessed. Rafters can serve as excellent canned good areas if needed. Shelving units can be purchased or hand made. I’d advise never to store anything directly on concrete floors though as concrete can react with plastic containers as well as metal containers, corrode and/or disintegrate those in time.                                                                                                                                food storage between wall studs  food storage under couch water food storage pantry 4.5 inches wide in a mobile home hallway. built from 1x4s and 1x2s

 

Don’t forget to remember your animals in your food storage plans. Buy, can, or freeze enough food for them to get them through precarious times. Our outside animals necessitate a little extra. We store food for them, in the barn, in large 55 gallon barrels with lids. Goats are notoriously nosey, and piggy, and, well, determined. We have to use the large metal, lidded barrels in their barn just to keep the food stuff intact and also free of rodents. It also means that we need to check drinking water heaters to make sure they’re operable, make sure that we have enough extension cord in good repair to service the heaters. It means that we need to lay back enough hay, and soon, to last through the winter. As another blogger wrote, shortages are common in the winter. Many farmers keep what they have for their own livestock first. It’s better to stock up while you can, as it becomes available, rather than waiting until the last minute or in the middle of a crisis.

Housing.chimneyman It’s time to check for any outside needed repairs. Is the power line coming into the house secure? During the winter ice storm of 2007, we saw many conduits leading from the power lines to inside the house, bent and ripped away from the house. Check those, secure with clamps as needed and be safe. Windows, shutters, faucets, outbuildings need inspected and repairs made as necessary. This includes storage sheds, barns, garages, and your home. There’s nothing worse than having to go out in the middle of a freeze to make a repair that’s become mandatory when it could have been fixed simply and with much more ease during the warmth of summer or fall. It’s also time to pull out snow shovels, blowers, ice melt, and auto windshield de-icer.    

     fixing a water faucet

Heatwood fireplace How do you heat your home? Take into consideration the rising cost of propane in the winter months, the potential for a shortage of dried wood for wood heated homes, and the potential for electrical outages in total electric homes. Do you have a safe backup source of heat? Safety is a key word here. I’ve heard people tell me that they have a kerosene heater to use. That’s fine, but make sure you have a way to ventilate that kerosene heater well. Make sure you have a way to ventilate your gasoline powered generator that you will use for space heaters, very well. Carbon monoxide poisoning is, or can be deadly. It sneaks up on the unsuspecting individual and overcomes them before they know it. My husband could tell you a hair raising story about such an event with him just this summer. Ventilate, ventilate, ventilate. Wood. If this is a primary or back-up source of heat for you, you are most likely aware of how many cords of wood is needed for a winter. Stock up now, place it up on pallets and keep it covered and dry. Do this while the weather and supply allow you an ample stock. Wood pellet stoves, again, you know how many bags of pellets your stove needs. The math is easy. Lay back at least enough to get you through an anticipated crisis. For those who use a fireplace, now is the last chance you will have before winter sets in, to clean the flu, make necessary repairs and ready your hearth for use.

Clothing and blankets. gmbbigI can remember my grandmother using this time of year to finish quilts. She had quilts made from all sorts of fabric, from Grandpa’s coveralls, to pieces of flannel and wool. I still have one of her wool quilts that is lined with several layers of flannel, has a flannel back, and is so heavy that it held me fast in bed when I was only 5 years old. She mended boots with patches, mended coats, stockings and gloves. Winter wear and heavy curtains were brought out and aired in the crisp coolness of the fall afternoons. Living in an old farmhouse meant drafty and chilly rooms. Now, 50 years later, I have learned that it wasn’t just her house that was drafty at times. Most of us experience the same…ummm…memories. We’ve discovered the art of using window quilts in some of the back rooms during the winter. I’ve made smaller quilts to fit those windows that have a tie back to use during the daytime. At night, the window coverings are closed and keep the day’s warmth in for quite a while. The same inspection and repairs, if needed, is a memorable task we make to this day, just as my grandmother did so many years ago. Items such as boots, gloves, hats, scarves, are purchased well in advance of the winter’s need. Again, no one knows what the winter will bring and it’s better to be prepared rather than in need and the supply not available.

The last item I want to share with you is light. It’s not a necessity, but a welcome luxury in the event of a crisis situation. What are your backup sources for lighting? Battery operated? Candles? Oil lamps? Make sure you have enough fuel stored, and safely for oil lamps. Make sure you have enough matches or lighters stored away to light them, or the emergency candles you have stored. And, with candles, make sure you have a way to use them safely, sans the possibility of them tipping over or having a breeze blow flammable items into the flames. Batteries need to be purchased and stored in a cool, dark place for longer viability. One favorite that I’ve seen used recently are solar powered outside lights. They’re safe, inexpensive (most likely going on sale shortly) and give a fair amount of luminescence for a small sum of money. Here are just a few ideas.

mason jar lamp  oil lamp II        Solar Accent Lights.  batt lights

I’m sure that most of you could come up with a much longer list than this for your fall chores either around your city or rural homestead. The most important thing to do, is to get them done. Procrastination isn’t an option if you want to be prepared. If you need to procrastinate, do so when the ground is covered with a heavy blanket of fresh fallen snow, cover up with your nice, warm quilt, have a pair of thick wooly socks on and curl up in front of the fireplace that has been cleaned, repaired and is stock full of the wood you’ve gathered for just this very pleasure.

                                                                  family feet

                                      

 

 

 

 

Getting Ready for Winter: Part V: Your Vehicles

blizzard Colorado Blizzard of 2003

Last but definitely not least is your vehicle. It’s more than just transportation. It could be a lifesaver or a life taker.

 

Vehicle:

  1. Have your vehicle serviced. That includes oil change, filter changes as necessary, tire pressure checked, tires checked for tread worthiness. Replace worn parts. There’s nothing worse than having your vehicle break down in the middle of winter when you are 20 miles from home!
  2. Place a 72 hr survival kit in the car. That should include blankets, extra warm clothing, socks and waterproof boots, hats, gloves, etc. Also include in that kit, high energy foods that won’t freeze, water or juice, hard candy, extra meds if needed, a small sterno stove and sterno fuel (don’t use this inside your vehicle!! CO2 from a sterno stove is deadly!). Include matches or a lighter, kitty litter or sand, a tow rope, jumper cables, flashlight with extra batteries or a hand crank type flashlight. Garbage bags, tissue paper, feminine items (you just never know!!), and a can or pan to melt snow into water as needed.
  3. Keep a full bottle of windshield washer fluid in your vehicle. The kind that contains de-icer is best for cold winter months. 
  4. Keep a can of WD40 around. Don’t put it in your car. It’s a great mechanism for de-icing frozen car locks, but it won’t work if it’s locked inside your car! I carried a tote bag to and from work, carried it inside and put it under my desk. In it, was a can of WD-40. My office mates used to laugh until they saw me de-icing my car locks when theirs were frozen solid. And, yes, I took pity on them and shared my can of WD-40. I noticed other tote bags showing up at work. I always wonder if they followed my lead?
  5. Keep a  et of chains (if you’re able to put them on your car) in the vehicle.
  6. Make sure your tool kit is in the vehicle.
  7. Keep headlights and tail lights clean.
  8. Make sure your vehicle battery is in good shape. Excessive heat and cold are hard on older batteries. Replace as necessary.
  9. Flares: It doesn’t matter what kind, whether they’re reflector type or the old kind that looks like firecrackers. Have them handy.
  10. Consider having a “HELP!” sign to place in your windows. If not that, the universal code for help is a red flag or bandana or cloth tied to the antenna. That way, if you need help and are stranded in your vehicle, you will have a visible sign to your rescuers.
  11. Keep your cell phone charged.
  12. If you need to travel, always plan your route and let someone else know what your route is. Don’t deviate from it. If you have a breakdown, knowing where you might be could be a lifesaver if someone needs to trace your route. Try not to plan trips during extreme weather conditions if at all possible. Blizzards, white-outs, I’ve been unfortunate to have to travel across Montana and Wyoming in blizzard conditions and it was scary. I’ve traveled down I-70 through Colorado in the middle of a blizzard in December of 2003, couldn’t find a motel anywhere, was reduced to traveling 30 MPH during the lighter part of the blizzard, and had to spend the night at a rest area with snow piled 8 inches deep on top of my car the next morning. Frightening? Absolutely because I was alone. But, with these tips and tricks, I am blessed to be here to share this blog entry with you. Take care, be prepared, and be safe!

Sad Day/Planning for the Inevitable

I received word this morning, actually a phone call at 0630 from a friend in TN that our dear friend’s husband had passed away unexpectedly yesterday. Our mutual friend was much to distraught to elaborate on it, and one could feel the loneliness and confusion in her email to us. Mel was only in his early 60’s. Much, much to young to leave his beautiful wife to fend for herself on their farm. They have 2 grown children, neither who live in TX close to them, to be able to help their mama with the farm duties. They raise dairy cattle. My heart is broken in a thousand tiny pieces for G. and their family. Reading her email and crying on the phone with Linda this morning put a whole new perspective on life, how delicate and fragile it is. It makes you realize the importance and sanctity of marriage, of a partnership with a life-mate.

Farming is hard work, especially so when you have large livestock that require strength and determination to manage. Thus, this post. Planning. Life doesn’t hold guarantees, doesn’t hold a promise of “forever”. What would I do if my husband were to leave this world to meet the Creator? Where would I go, how would I manage? Would this farm maintain and sustain itself with a one person shepherd? I don’t know. This is the 2nd time since July that I have lost close friends. Friends that maintained a homestead with just themselves as partners. It’s time to plan. We aren’t spring chickens anymore. I am 59 and my husband is 65 and isn’t in the greatest of health. Fortunately, our livestock is small, but there are still the daily chores of feeding, watering, cleaning barns, gathering eggs, cutting and hauling firewood, hauling hay, mowing a bulk of 10 acres, gardening and canning, vehicle maintenance, farm equipment maintenance, repairing fences, adding more fencing to enlarge pastures, washing, cleaning the house, cooking…and then…after all of that, there has to be time to take care of myself. Then, there are the financial considerations of maintaining a homestead. But, more than anything, there is the companionship…the laughter as you share those tasks, of praying together before meals and at night, of the extra set of muscles when it comes to lifting a bale of hay or a roll of fencing. Where is it all going to come from, especially when you are hundreds of miles from family. You never realize how much one depends on their mates for help in just the everyday activities of daily living.

Yes, it’s time to plan, and not just for myself, but for you as well. I think the first step in the planning is estate planning. To find a good lawyer is paramount to protect your interests, your assets and your livelihood. We are blessed in that I have a beautiful niece who is close to me to help me with that. I will call her this afternoon or tomorrow and make an appointment with her to begin setting up our estate plan. We have a bit of insurance, but I know that most will go to pay off the balance of the loan on the farm and the few creditors that we have. Fortunately, these bills are not high, so that is a blessing in itself. But, that doesn’t include final expenditures, funeral and burial, remaining medical bills. And, after that, our marriage was a late in life marriage, meaning that we have grown children from previous marriages. I don’t anticipate issues, but the possibility is always there. Unfortunately, grief brings out the worst in some people. Estate planning will eliminate those issues, especially when you have strong legal representation to protect your interests. From what is left over, how long will that support this farm? Is it something that I can manage on my own? Do I contemplate selling it and buying something smaller that is more manageable? Again, questions that cannot be answered until when and if. Where would one go if they do decide to sell? My children have their own lives, are city kids and live in urban areas. That is not the life for this homesteader. I need to be where the stars shine at night without impedance from city lights and smog, where I can go to a nearby trout stream and wade in the shallow rivers in the summertime, where I can watch the deer play and listen to the crickets and coyotes at night and the roosters during the day. It needs to be a place where I can catch my turkeys, “Christmas” and “Thanksgiving” and pet them…even if they look like goofy Jurassic Park creatures when they run.

Planning further, where will we be placed after we pass away? It needs to be planned ahead, not waiting until the last minute when one is so heartbroken and confused and vulnerable to the widow and widower vultures that exist in the real world. We will be making a trip to the local mortuary and making those final plans very, very soon. Prepaying final expenses is an option that often locks in today’s prices for those services. Many mortuaries offer that service for their clientele. It allows the loved ones a peace of mind in knowing that their wishes will be followed, that the services and interment will be per their choosing, not that of a distraught spouse or child. We have the option of being interred in a VA cemetery because my husband is retired, career military. If they can promise that we will be interred in the same plot, then that is one less expense that our family will have to endure. It doesn’t matter to me where, as long as we’re together.

Then too, what to do with the estate? There are so many questions and considerations, especially when there are sets of children and grandchildren from multiple marriages. Talking with an unbiased estate planner will help you make a fair and just decision on those issues. Things to have in hand, birth certificates, Marriage license, (divorce decree if there have been previous marriages) financial statements including bank account numbers, insurance policies (including those on credit card accounts, military, Social Security and Medicare or others) and beneficiary phone numbers and addresses…and social security numbers, names, addresses and phone numbers of children, siblings or other important people who will need notification, real estate papers including copies of land deeds, titles on equipment and vehicles, pre-paid burial plots, funeral home services, even pictures of the inside of your home that show valuables, jewelry, etc. Copies of stocks and bonds, IRA’s, are just a partial list of documentation to have on hand when you visit with your estate planner. They will need a list of all your creditors, account numbers and balances. When you make an appointment with one, ask if there are any other legal documents that need to be brought with you. We have given a key to our home to a neighbor and to a best, trusted friend to be able to come into the house and take out our inside animals to board them until a final decision is made to their disposition. The attorney will either have a key to the lockbox or know which of our trusted friends has it. In our case, since our niece is the estate administrator, she will have a key of her own.

To some, death is a morbid topic, but it is very real. It is a part of a culmination of life on this plane and the beginning of life on another. It is just as important as planning what your next meal will be, what clothes you will wear when you drive into town, or what will be placed on your grocery list. Please, don’t let this pre-planning sneak up on you like a thief in the night. It’s better to do this while you are level headed, clear in thought and can make appropriate decisions that will affect the welfare of your spouse, children and other loved ones.

In loving memory of Mel H. and to the strength, courage and fortitude of his wife, G. I am….

God's promise