There are only so many hours in a day. I have to tell myself that – often. This year in particular I’ve finally tapped out on available hours, and discovered that there is a price to pay for running out of those hours.
The above pic: Daisy Duke – contented cow and supplier of great quantities of butterfat laden milk. (sorry about the blurry – I’m not often near her with my phone and had to crop the pic). Do we actually need a house cow? No. And yes. It’s not that Daisy is a lot of work – she takes pretty good care of herself – it’s that everything she provides, creates a lot of work, and requires a lot of planning. Last year – come March, when I threw the towel in on milking and sent her down the road to be bred (literally down the road), I gave little thought to when the calf would be born, other than figuring on a New Years baby. Good enough. Now if I were raising beef cattle for market – that’s a great time to drop a calf on the ground – it’ll be about as big as it can get when it goes off to market. But we’re not raising beef cattle – I did not think about the fact that miss Daily Duke would be churning out gallons of gallons of milk – totally at the wrong time of year for me. I do not run my cook stove in the summer. No cook stove – no way to make any cheese other than what I can make without heat. Of course I got many batches of cream cheese and a few pressed cheeses made while we were still sharing her with the calf- but once that calf was weaned off (to a measured amount served up in a bucket), well – my entire life became about milk and what to do with it when you are not running the cook stove. Creative thinking 101: we had pigs. Now I don’t like feeding pigs straight milk – they pee a lot. So much so – I don’t think they’re getting much out of the milk. It dawned on me that I could make Creole Cream cheese without heat – (milk no colder than 70, no warmer than 80) – so off and running I was. So yes – two pigs were raised on wheat, refuse from the garden, and two gallons of Creole Cream cheese a day – they were slaughter weight a month early – win win. Problem? The piggies went to market. Plan B. Feed it to the chickens. Problem? The chickens can only eat so much clabber a day. Now all this effort does not use up all of the milk – far from it – even after I skimmed and made butter, there wasn’t a day I did not open my fridge and stare at a minimum of six gallons of milk. I’m not kidding when I say there were days when Bruce came in the back door with that pail of milk and I wanted to promptly open up the side door and fling it into the yard. There seemed not a moment of my ‘home’ time where I was not skimming, cheesing, churning, washing washing washing jars. Solution? This year – we trailered miss Daisy Duke to the farm where we bought her, in September – where she will continue to be milked, and certainly get bred, and we will have a June calf – and when we wean that calf, my cook stove will be up and running.
Firewood. Getting firewood is bloody hard work. Before you set foot in the bush you need: a permit (free, but must have one), fire fighting equipment, chainsaws, water, mixed fuel for the saws, a wedge, an axe, and if you want to bring a decent amount down from the mountain – a decent trailer to haul it with. There are ‘rules’ about getting your own wood: you must only cut windfall, or standing dead, or beetle kill. The tree must not be more than one foot in diameter at the base, you must take all of it up to the four inch diameter at the top. You must spread the debris around and not leave a fire hazard, you must cut it within a foot of the ground. You may not take any trees that look as though they are in use by wildlife (bear scratched/moose rubbed etc.) You must not cut in a logging block/private land. All the wood you transport must be cut into lengths no longer than 24 inches. (Yeah, we thumbed our nose at that last one). Finding trees that aren’t owned/blocked out/ marked by logging companies around here – that’s a project. One would think there’d be maps of this nonsense – but none that I’ve managed to find. Regardless – some friends about an hour away kindly pointed out that behind their sixty acres was a previously logged, replanted, acres of crown land we could harvest from. The pic above is the road on the way up the hill.
Now no matter how much one would wish, the trees we can take simply aren’t beside the road all handy to take. You drive along, eyeballing ‘clumps’ of promising looking dead trees or blow down that’s hopefully not too far from the road, park, go scout it out – making sure to watch for irritated bears (lots of bear sign up there), decide whether or not the standing dead are not leaning the wrong way because of prevailing winds (therefore impossible to fall without snagging, as you can’t ‘make’ it fall where you want), head back to the truck, grab saws and get at it.
I can’t lift and carry a ten foot log that weighs somewhere between two and four hundred pounds – anywhere. So I flip them, as does Bruce. Pick up, get to the knees, the waist, the chest – walk under it and stand it up and flip. Kind of like the caber toss – but on the ground. It’s work. Lift, walk, flip – lift, walk, flip, trying desperately to not flip it onto any replanted young trees and smash them, until you zig zag lift, walk, flip your way back to the truck where it can be loaded onto the trailer. One trailer load is just under two cords of wood. One trailer load takes about six hours of grunt to fill. It’s hot up there, incredibly humid – we are drowned rats, sweating, sawing logs, heaving logs until we can’t realistically add more weight than the trailer is designed to carry. We get the trailer loaded, we get back home – we unload trailer and saw logs into the size we need for our stoves, we stack it. Actually, Bruce cuts and stacks on his day off. Next free (?) day – back we go again.
Am I happy about getting our own wood this year? Yes. It has always bothered me that as ‘self sufficient (haha) homesteading’ type people, we bought our wood. And no – because every day we’re up getting wood is a day something else is not getting done. Back to the ‘only so many hours in a day’ thing. This year – I determined I would suck it up and use the BIG SAW as I like to call it. I’m not afraid of the saw – but it’s damn big. Twelve years ago when I bought it – I had a go at starting it (can’t unless I stand on it and pull the cord), had a go at cutting through a log – and promptly handed it back to Bruce who has been using a chain saw his whole life. This year, I got fed up with caber tossing longs and decided I’d rather use the BIG SAW, skip chain and all. It gave me a break from the grunt, I still have all my limbs 😀
Getting hay – in my perfect world (eye roll) we would have our own hay, as it is, we generally drive down the road or so every two weeks and pick up what we need for the next two weeks. This year was one of those ‘rain at the wrong time sun at the wrong time’ years – we drove by our regular go-to hay fields that belong to farmers we regularly buy hay from and watched in dismay as the daisies and buttercups flourished while the grass did not. We wondered how we could possibly feed that to our house cow, or our horses – we could not. As it turned out – not everybody had a bad hay field. Neighbour to the North has a son who has a small field on the other side of the highway – premium hay. Baled into squares for the cow. Now neighbour to the North is seventy some odd years old and works twenty out of every twenty four hours and is an absolute machine. Anybody who can’t keep up to him, regardless of the reason – is a waste of skin. He marched over one day and said something like “There’s four hundred squares in that field you can buy – same price as last year – come get it – it’s gonna rain by Saturday!” And he fully expected that despite the fact I’d worked all day, despite the fact that Bruce had spent the entire day cutting, splitting and stacking firewood and doing his regular chores during one of the hottest days of the year, despite the fact neither of us had eaten dinner – we would round up a trailer and come and get the hay.
We did. Neighbour to the North helped load it – lecturing all the while how he had the stamina of ten men while we did not – how he used to work a day job AND farm and still had the stamina of ten men and we did not….. Wow. I bit my tongue and loaded hay – managed to totter down the road and back across the highway with 150 bales on that trailer – and a promise we would be back the following night for more hay. I spent my entire day off humping that hay into the feed room – making hay stair cases so I could get the stuff all the way to the 12 foot rafters – five bales at a time – rest in the shade. Four bales at a time – rest in the shade. By the end of my day I was sitting there telling myself ‘two more bales then rest’. Then it was ‘one bale at a time and rest’. I walked away from the project with fifteen bales still on that trailer and likely some good old fashioned heat stroke. When Bruce got home, we headed back over and loaded more hay. Listened to more lecturing. I suppose if I had a desk job, I would have welcomed the exercise – but I don’t have a desk job and neither does Bruce. It was a tough haul – we did not have all those bales over here and stacked until Sunday.
Despite all but ignoring the gardens this year (so much to do, so little time), they did well – that is to say, what didn’t outright drown in the glut of rain at the wrong time of year, did well. We’ll be okay til next year. Didn’t get hardly any pictures this year… but dry beans and carrots were banner, as was the broccoli, peas, potatoes, beets.
Chickens got processed, beef stock made, fat rendered, horses got attention – but as always it seems, not enough use – ‘hours in a day’ again.
I’ll finish off this post with what I did NOT do this year. I did not make soap (oh I really miss my home made bar soap). I did not get to replenishing my home made laundry soap – two weeks ago I stood in the store, more than slightly dumbfounded at the price of laundry detergent – and baffled at the fact that liquid laundry soap seems to be the norm. I bought some – a small bottle that professed on the label that it was good for 51 loads. I stood in the laundromat (our last wringer washer died to death and I need a new wringer for my ‘swish it yourself’ tub) and tried to decipher the instructions for just how much of this stuff I was supposed to use per load. Ultimately I did the guess and pour – managed to burn up half a jug on five loads. No….the laundry did not look any cleaner or smell any cleaner.
I did not can a single tomato, or make a single jar of tomato sauce – this will come back to haunt me this winter, I’m quite certain. I did not manage to pick a single wild twin berry, or saskatoon – thinking oh well – there’s rose hips to come. There are zero rose hips this year – I’m assuming the ‘rain at the wrong time’ knocked all the flowers off at exactly the right time to not produce fruit.
Still, the year is not done yet. The cook stove is now running most every day, I’ll still manage to get the kidney fat from the pigs rendered for pastry lard, more beef bone stock in jars, soap made again, more cheese once the cow is back from her ‘date’, possibly get on my horse for a quick ride (what? you have a horse?), and if I happen to catch a good deal on tomatoes, knowing me….I’ll buy up a hundred pounds of them (so long as they’re at least from this province) and can them up anyway.
That – is the price you pay for not enough hours – for taking on more things than you normally take on. For every one thing you add to your work load, once you reach the tipping point – one other thing falls off the end of the list. This year I found that tipping point – next year I need to find the right balance – the one between ‘too much and not enough’ that I think all farmers/homesteaders strive to find. Ultimately – more land (as in my previous post) is not necessarily the answer – I mean it’s all fine to grow your own hay, but now you’re adding cutting and baling it to the equation, getting wood is still getting wood whether you get it off your own property or not….. in the end, it’s about balance. Finding the right balance is definitely something I have to work on.
Until next time….. 🙂