Mosquito Mountain Montana Homestead

Preparing for Winter

Mosquito Mountain Montana HomesteadFall is my favorite time of the year. I love the cool nights and the bright colors as the days grow shorter. I like feeling the heat from the wood stove as it radiates throughout the cabin. I like listening for the tea-kettle's whistle as it heats up on the stove's surface and I enjoy cooking breakfast utilizing a renewable resource.

A little artwork by Jack Frost.

A little artwork by Jack Frost.

Fall is our final chance to prepare for the long winter months. In the next couple of months we will hunt and preserve most of our meat for the coming year, fill the woodshed, and prepare the garden and equipment for their winter rest (and spring revival!).

My wife and I enjoy hunting and always look forward to hunting season. Our big game bow hunting season begins in early September and ends in mid-October. While I enjoy bow hunting I'm not wildly successful at it so I usually have tags remaining for the gun season that starts in late October and ends the Sunday after Thanksgiving Day.

I enjoy shooting about anything that throws a projectile so during the summer I've spent time shooting my bow, crossbow, traditional and inline muzzle-loaders, and my centerfire and rimfire rifles. That way there's no rush to ensure that my firearms are sighted in because I haven't shot them since the last hunting season. They've been in use all year.

My wife also hunts and is an excellent shot. She likes to get her tags filled early before it gets too cold.

My wife also hunts and is an excellent shot. She likes to get her tags filled early before it gets too cold.

Our seasons are liberal and residents can still buy over-the-counter tags (no drawings) for one deer, one elk, and one bear. With my wife and both hunting we get most of our year's meat supply during the fall season. We can also enter drawings for limited tags on other big game animals. The upland game bird season runs about the same times as the bow and gun seasons for large game so I usually get grouse while hunting during the bow season. (I do pretty well hitting grouse with an arrow!) We have wild turkeys near the cabin so I usually get one in those years I purchase a tag for them.

We can all of our meat (except birds, which we eat right away) so we spend time getting more canning jars out of storage and ready for use. Our canners are never really in storage because they're in use all year but we have thousands of jars that are in constant rotation from being emptied to being re-used. It takes quite a few jars to can a deer, elk or bear.

I use a hand-powered grinder for grinding our meat.

I use a hand-powered grinder for grinding our meat. If it's not too cold I use it outside. Otherwise I'll grind the meat indoors.

I do all of the butchering so this time of year is when we get the meat grinder out of storage and I hone the blades of my favorite knives to a shaving sharp edge. In the meantime my wife, who does all of the canning, is readying jars and canners (we have four pressure canners).

We have four pressure canners.

We have four pressure canners. When we have a lot to can we'll retrieve our propane "outfitter stove" from storage. It holds two more canners.

If the wood shed isn't full by fall I'll be cutting, splitting and stacking firewood. I try to get my wood early most years. If a person gets their permit from the Forest Service and cruises the back roads in spring you can often get wood that's fallen across or near the road during the winter. Unfortunately it's usually green and will need time to season before use. I throw green wood in a separate pile then load it in to the back of the wood shed so it won't get used until late winter or early spring. That way it has plenty of time to season (dry).

If you don't get your wood until later in the summer you'll have to go for the stuff that's farther from the road. It's normally good, seasoned wood but it's more work to get it to the truck.

In a bad fire year it makes sense to wait until fall to do your wood cutting. Mainly because if a fire rolls through the firefighters will usually try to save your home but they'll let your wood shed go up in smoke. If that happens all of your previous work has been wasted.

This year all of our cutting will be on our own property and since it's been a bad year for fires I still have a few cords to cut, split and stack.

A full truck load of wood brings its own reward on those long winter nights.

A full truck load of wood brings its own reward on those long winter nights.

As I finish up cutting firewood I'll put my chainsaws away for winter. This includes draining the fuel and running the carburetor dry, draining the chain oil from the reservoir and relaxing the chain on the bar. I used to remove the chains and store them in a bucket of oil but there are so many times that I have to get them out during the winter to clear downed trees from the road that I just loosen the chain tension instead. That way it's a lot easier and less messy to get them going again when I need them.

Our gardening season is officially over by mid-September. At this time we till up everything and let the remains compost over the winter. Soon the leaves will fall from the aspen in the yard and those will be raked up, scattered in the garden and tilled under. At least that's what happens if the weather cooperates. Many years we just rake up and pile the leaves because the ground is frozen in the garden.

Fall is also when I put to bed all of the gasoline-powered tools we have. String trimmers and the power mower will be drained of fuel and stored in the shed. The push mowers will also be stored inside until next spring.

It's also the time of year to inspect the snow rake (for pulling snow off the roof of buildings) and make sure all of the handle extensions are easy to get to. Likewise the chimney brush and handles will also be made readily available. If we are here all winter I normally clean the chimney about three times. We don't get a lot of creosote build up because I run a hot fire first thing every morning but it's better to be safe than sorry. Especially when the issue is a chimney fire!

Fall is definitely one of our busier times of year but it's also one of the most enjoyable. The days are getting shorter so we actually have time to sit and maybe watch a movie on the television, read or play our musical instruments. Our most recent acquisitions are Indian Flutes. We both enjoy the soothing sound they make. They just seem to be the perfect ending to a busy fall day.

If you've enjoyed what you've read so far you might want to check into my book, Creating the Low Budget Homestead (available in the GRIT Bookstore). It's filled with homesteading advice you won't find anywhere else. Most homesteading books tell you how to raise livestock, grow a garden and preserve your harvest. My book focuses on how to pursue your homesteading dream on a budget that would make Ebeneezer Scrooge envious.

You may also view my blog, Off-Grid, Self-Sufficient Montana Homestead Life.

Looking Back 7, Part 2: Nuisance Animals We've Dealt With Over the Years

Mosquito Mountain Montana HomesteadAside from pack rats our biggest animal problems have been ground squirrels, rabbits and deer.

Ground squirrels inhabit most of our area, leaving unsightly (and dangerous to livestock) mounds of earth around holes they've burrowed into the ground. They'll literally consume everything you've planted in the garden in a short time if you don't keep them out of your garden and flower beds. Our dog kills them outside of the garden fence but inside the fence we have to use guns, traps, and sometimes poison.

Looking Back 7 - Nuisance Animals, Part 2

An air rifle is an efficient and economical replacement for a conventional firearm for eliminating small garden pests and predators. I prefer .22 caliber over .177.

This summer we returned late from our snowbird location then immediately had to go to Kansas for a few weeks after my stepfather died. When we got back home it was too late to plant a garden. The ground squirrels had pretty much taken it over anyway since the dog was with us. They'd had their litters for the spring so they were everywhere. My record was 23 shot and trapped in one day. About two-thirds were the youngsters. Even now, weeks later, I'm still averaging two per day in my traps in the garden. Next year I'll come home early and try to get them under control right away.

Looking Back 7 - Nuisance Animals, Part 2

That cute little bunny rabbit can do a lot of damage to your garden in a very short time.

I once thought the little rabbit hopping about in the garden and playing with the kitten was cute. I let it go all summer long. It was still around when we headed south in the winter. When we returned the next spring I found out that the cute little bunny had girdled all but one of our apple trees. It was gone by the time we got home and I can only hope it died a painful death in the teeth or talons of a predator.

I shoot them on sight now. We have snowshoe hares around here and they are edible if you pressure can or cook them. Otherwise they're tough to chew. (Cottontail rabbits are tastier table fare.)

Looking Back 7 - Nuisance Animals, Part 2

An alternative to an air rifle or firearm is this Crosman model 1322 pump-type pellet pistol. It has enough power for small pests and predators. The optional shoulder stock makes hitting the target easier.

Deer can cause a lot of damage and the only way to reliably keep them out of your garden is a good fence. Ours are about 6 feet high. We had a spare patch of ground we planted corn, peas and beans in one year. We put up a temporary fence out of plastic drift fencing but the deer discovered that they could tear it with their hooves. They entered the garden area and ate all of the peas and most of the bean plants down to bare ground the first night. My wife had some old bear (pepper) spray and applied it liberally to the corn and remaining beans. When we went out the next day everything was tramped down. Apparently the deer ate some of the sprayed plants then stomped around either in pain, anger, or confusion before leaving. They never came back but then there was nothing left for them to eat either. We called that encounter a "draw." No real winners but at least we got a little revenge on the hoofed vandals!

The other nuisance animals are mostly predators after our chickens. Chicken seems to be high on the preferred food list of about every predator in existence. In our experience this means skunks, badgers, weasels, raccoons, owls, hawks, eagles, bobcats, mountain lions, grizzly bears, and the neighbor's dogs.

We protect our chickens with chicken wire fencing under around and over their "run" and I shut them inside the coop every night. I'm not worried that the chickens will escape ... I worry that the predators will get them if I don't. Weasels in particular can squeeze through very small openings and they'll kill every chicken they can find just for the joy of killing. We also have an electric fence around the coop and run to keep the bears out.

Some will be offended by what I've written. Many people do not want to see animals killed but if you're growing food for your family you see things differently. You also have a duty to protect domestic animals in your care. That means you keep them safe from both disease and predators.

One of the saddest stories I ever heard was of a couple who moved out into a rural area of Montana with their horses. They spent one evening clutching their pocket pooch and huddled in fear in their living room listening to the dying screams of their horses penned up in the barn as a mountain lion shredded their skin off in giants ribbons with its claws. It had to be a relief when it got a grip on the neck of one horse with its teeth and bit through the arteries. The horse quickly bled to death at that point. The other horse, a yearling colt, had to be shot the next day. Its injuries were too great for it to recover.

When I talked to them later they just shrugged their shoulders and said that they didn't believe in owning guns and their dog was too small to fight a lion. Besides, they quipped, the lion was there first.

I sincerely hope no one ever sold them another horse again.

They moved back to California a couple of years later. Seems they couldn't get along with their backwards "gun-toting" neighbors. Their neighbors were glad to see them go.

Predators and pests are a fact of life for homesteaders so its best to have plans in place to protect your property, livestock, and crops.

I'll continue our story in future posts.

If you've enjoyed what you've read so far you might want to check into my book, Creating the Low Budget Homestead, (Available in the Grit bookstore: http://www.grit.com/shopping/detail.aspx?itemnumber=6510). It's filled with homesteading advice you won't find anywhere else. Most homesteading books tell you how to raise livestock, grow a garden and preserve your harvest. My book focuses on how to pursue your homesteading dream on a budget that would make Ebeneezer Scrooge envious.

You may also view my blog, Off-Grid, Self-Sufficient, Montana Homestead Life