Memories of Winterizing the Homestead

Stockpiling, canning, haying, and installing the storm windows was a continuous process when preparing for winter.

  • Preparing for winter includes putting up hay.
    Illustration by Dennis Auth
  • Fall chores involve placing storm windows to protect against the cold winter.
    Illustration by Dennis Auth

The arrival of fall sends us farmers scurrying to stockpile supplies for the coming Long Cold. I like to think of us as large and mostly hairless squirrels. I always admired the story of Noah. Not so much for Noah’s ark-building skills, but because he was able to lay in enough forage to feed all those huge herbivores during the months they would spend in his floating barn.

Thanks to the advent of superhighways and supermarkets, some folks might think preparing for winter means picking up an extra box of DVDs for the kiddies and buying a box of wine for mom and dad. Livestock farmers have a distinctly different perspective when it comes to preparing for winter. When I was a kid growing up on our dairy farm, getting ready for winter was a chore that began almost as soon as winter ended.

The first cutting of alfalfa occurred in late May. After the hay cured, we raked it into windrows that looked like gigantic, half-mile-long emerald snakes. These snakes were then gobbled up by our ravenous baler, which expelled an endless stream of bales that had approximately the same density as a black hole. We then hauled these super-massive bales to our stanchion barn and stacked them in its loft.

It breaks my heart to report this, but our parents violated child labor laws by forcing my seven siblings and me to assist with the task. Baling always took place on the hottest days of the year. The hayloft was an oven of chaff, dust and kids who were struggling to stack bales that weighed as much as the kid. But it was worth the effort because in the dead of winter, we could break open a bale for our Holsteins and revel in the pent-up aroma of curing alfalfa and warm summer sunshine. The hay was about as nourishing for us as it was for the cows.

Come midsummer, Mom would begin to can the veggies harvested from our acre-sized garden. The kitchen would become a steamy cauldron of gleaming glass jars and sinfully scarlet tomatoes.

The stone fruit season would arrive and the pantry would fill with lugs of peaches and cherries, along with pears, for Mom to can. Once, when a box of deeply purple plums sat waiting their turn, I bit into a plum and found it astoundingly sweet and delicious. Within minutes, I consumed nearly a dozen plums. Within hours, I discovered why one should practice moderation when it comes to eating plums. Lessons learned the hard way are those that endure the longest.

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