battening the hatches

Friday, November 25:

  At long last we see the end of the spring project.  For the better part of a month it has absorbed our spare energy and time, what there was of it, and now at last it is about done.  The process of transforming a wet place on the side of the hill into a stream of running water flowing at the rate of four or five gallons a minute has been long and uncertain.  Deep ditches miles long had to be dug and tiled (“tile” here means perforated pipe, like in a french drain system).  The part most fraught with difficulties was the plumbing of intake and overflow and cleanout pipes into the settling tank and stock tank; as Shawn observed, when you cut holes in the bottom of a barrel, you just have to expect it to leak.  We will post a more detailed account of how the project was carried out when we get time, and we apologize in advance that we are not more committed to picture-taking, but we mostly forget until the interesting part is done.

   The long warm autumn is giving us time for a lot of cleanup work we don’t usually get done before snow flies.  The chicken house, built this summer and sided with clapboard, but not battened, got its cracks covered with batten boards and its windows covered with six mil plastic sheeting.  This, and the dry floor, should mean cozy chickens this winter, and I’m trying to forget for the moment that they need to be culled soon.  Culling chickens, around here, means we try to determine which hens are not laying, and can them.  Literally.  Old laying hens are butchered and put up in mason jars – perfect for making chicken enchiladas.

   The new woodshed – not to be confused with the old woodshed, still doing duty outside the basement door – is not only keeping next winter’s wood dry, but provides a roof to keep the weather off our rare luxury, an old but seaworthy pop-up trailer which has many times paid for itself in saved hotel bills when some of us have to travel.  The trailer has been stored previous winters in the lane in the woods by the creek, where the local squirrels were sure to find it sooner or later and maybe move in.  In the big new barn – it was a summer for construction, because of the sawmill we acquired last November – hay and feed and pigs will keep dry and warm.  Isabel and Baby Belle and the steers will probably lounge in the middle bays of the barn when the truck isn’t in the way, which will make a mess, but what is a barn for?  And the running water to the pigs will mean someone can keep his feet dryer when feeding them this winter.

   The gardens have actually been cleaned up, and two low tunnels and one high tunnel are protecting carrots and lettuce for our winter use.  The low tunnels are just six mil plastic over hoops of wire or PVC, and the high tunnel is plastic over stock panels, high enough for a person to walk into.  We made sandbags out of woven plastic feed sacks containing about ten pounds of sand, rolled like a jelly roll and tied in several places.  These are used to weigh the sides of the plastic sheeting on the low tunnels, and seem to do the job of holding it down very well.  To harvest the vegetables inside, we just move a sandbag, lift up the plastic, and reach in.  Since we seldom get as much as two feet of snow laying at a time, we think this won’t be too inconvenient.

   Today was warm and beautiful and we took the opportunity of the men being off work for Thanksgiving to backfill the ditches on the hill and move the potatoes into the cooler of the two root cellars.  In the one we call “the cave” some of them were already getting little sprouts, which we rubbed off as we sorted them.  Any that looked compromised we put in a bucket to cook for the pigs, but there was less than half a bucket of these.  We are going into the winter with about six hundred pounds of good potatoes, which should carry us well into next summer, without touching the potatoes set aside for seed.  Stored food gives one a feeling of security.

   On the frivolous side, we piled up all the scrap lumber and trash wood we had flung into the bonfire pit, and we are ready to bring in midwinter with a blaze big enough for the cops to see it in town.  We like their visits; they are an intelligent force, only stopping by to say hello in a disinterested way.  This year we hope they come while the doughnuts are still hot.

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