Winter Preppers

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Winter waits for no ranch wife.

Winter waits for no ranch wife.

I suppose if you live in a city (especially in an apartment), the approach of winter is a fairly minor issue; maybe some leaf raking, clean out the gutters and in really cold climates, you might put heat tape on exposed pipes and wrap them with insulation. Our winter prep is a good bit more extensive.

Genovese Basil, just about ready for freezer pesto.

Genovese Basil, just about ready for freezer pesto.


Although I do have some garden going year round, this is the time of year when I need to push things to get ripe and/or set seed. We’re about six weeks from our most likely first hard frost date, so I want to get the tomatoes to ripen. Although we’re still picking some snap beans, I also need some to finish maturing and dry for seed, and of course the dry beans will be doing the same. Cutting back water is one way to push both of those processes along. Our climate is too arid (and still too hot in September) to just stop watering, so I gradually decrease the water over a period of a couple of weeks before I stop entirely. It’s a selective process, as the cucumbers and squash still need plenty of water and they will continue to set fruit until frost hits. In the kitchen garden, cutting back on water is not just for the plants’ sake; this is the time of year when the water table is getting lower, and the spring that feeds our well can’t recharge very quickly. If I were still watering full bore, I’d have to do it in two sessions, as there just isn’t enough water to run for the full garden round.
For a few years, we tarped the side of the barn and stored hay there, but it was a losing battle.

For a few years, we tarped the side of the barn and stored hay there, but it was a losing battle.


There are few outbuildings on this old ranch, since they were pretty much falling down when we bought it; we had to tear down the old barn, for example. That means tarping the hay stack and wood pile, the big tote bag of grain screenings and similar containers of things we need to have handy because we use them daily but also need to keep dry. Also along the line of covering things up, it’s time to get out the heavy winter blanket we use on the old stallion and check it for rips that need mending.
A properly tarped hay stack can withstand even high winds; if not weighted, the wind sneaks under the edges and the tarp leaves for the next county.

A properly tarped hay stack can withstand even high winds; if not weighted, the wind sneaks under the edges and the tarp leaves for the next county.


There’s always a collection of stuff outside that has accumulated during the summer: gardening tools, hay twine, containers of chicken litter and compost and — to be brutally honest — junk/trash. While it would be ideal to say “a place for everything and everything in its place,” the reality is we’re short on places for storage close to work areas like the kitchen and big garden, and summer is an extremely busy time. All too often, whatever we have in hand tends to wind up where we last used it. Things like used baling twine pile up, and the big plastic tubs we use to feed screenings to the animals (which they often break through overenthusiastic eating, pawing or squabbling for position) must be collected and either fixed or hauled off to be recycled.
Fermenting pickles (summer squash with onions and garlic) and apple cider vinegar.

Fermenting pickles (summer squash with onions and garlic) and apple cider vinegar.


While we’re doing all this covering and cleaning, there’s still plenty of preserving going on: apples, pears, and grapes right at the moment, plus the big jars of fermenting cumber pickles, herbs drying (at the moment all the lamps in the living room are festooned with basil). As soon as it cools just a bit more, my daughter and I will need to get the lard rendered (way too hot in the summer, and if you do it outside in a crockpot, the meat bees swarm!).
This is presumably some sort of Concord grape; very vigorous -- if we didn't hack it back to nubbins each year it would soon take over the whole orchard.

This is presumably some sort of Concord grape; very vigorous — if we didn’t hack it back to nubbins each year it would soon take over the whole orchard.


This is also the time of planting or transplanting many fall/winter-over crops, like broccoli, kale, snow and snap peas, Tyfon, spinach, lettuce, chard and beets. We’re still irrigating, and probably will be for at least another six weeks. It’s hunting season, so hubby and The Big One are off trying to bag at least one deer. If they’re successful, we’ll be skinning and cleaning. We don’t usually butcher our own any more — too hard on hubby’s back, and it’s so warm we can’t hang the meat without it spoiling. I can’t really say I mind, as doing your own butchering can be a pretty onerous task, especially when you’re making do as regards tools. We once butchered an elk on the kitchen table when we lived in Idaho, and hubby got the bright idea to use a skillsaw to cut the bones. I nixed that in hurry when he wound up putting a gash in the table…
There’s a reason why most cultures have a harvest celebration: it’s the first chance most of us will have had to sit down for any length of time in about six months!

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