Winter Preps

November 29, 2010

Even though it has now started to really feel like winter has started to show up a little more lately, we are better prepared then last year. Last year we installed a 30k BTU propane wall heater that performed pretty well for us but quickly found out that the cost of propane would prohibit us from using it as our primary head source.

So when the Tractor Supply Center got their supply of woodstoves in we got busy. We got a good stove, the double wall pipe and the flashing kit and on a clear Saturday completed the installation. It was the best thing we did all year.

Now the priority is to make sure I have a good supply of seasoned wood to get through the Winter.




November 26, 2010



Last week we finally received the last of our solar panels.  The system is a full 3.7 kw.  I know that doesn’t mean much to most of you but when we originally designed our PV solar system I knew right away I would be “building” it in stages. We just didn’t have the money to get it all at once.

Although I don’t think we will ever be completely finished. Next year I hope to get a solar hot water system ordered and start that install. Right now we have a propane tank and I would rather let the sun heat the water and that would easy my wallet on buying propane.

I also may start thinking about either a small wind generator or a micro-hydro to help keep the batteries charged on the short winter days and the days of heavy clouds. We seem to only get some wind in the winter and our stream only flows when it rains – heck it may take both systems who knows.

I do know that next week will be time for a load of donkey manure for the garden thanks to John and Carol and “Buck and Doe Run”.


November 16, 2010



Chicken Power

Well the short days and lack of sun has forced me into action. We received our Harbor Freight solar panels and Saturday we got them installed and running. I only added a small lawn mower battery to the kit. Hopefully it will help the chickens think there is still light and help to keep their egg laying steady. Only time will tell now.


November 8, 2010


This morning started out like most mornings. The thermometer read 20 degrees this morning, so the first chore of the day was to stoke up the fire. We have been leaving the chickens in the coop until about ten o’clock so they will lay their eggs in the nesting boxes. All six of our hens are laying now.

My cousin is out of town for a few days so I had to go over to his farm and feed up the donkeys, goats, and barn cats.  I can’t forget Sandy their fat Lab. She will be waiting impatiently for her breakfast. I always take Ruby with me so they can have a visit and a little playtime.

Nothing else was on the agenda today, so I thought I would can up one of those Cushaw pumpkins Vickie gave us. I got all my canning supplies ready and sharpened my knives. Apparently I sharpened them too well because I ended up slicing my thumb. I got the bleeding under control and put a bandaid on. Tough to do one handed.  It still wanted to bleed, probably because I have to take an aspirin a day and it thins the blood. My pumpkin lay there on the table cut open with seeds spilling out. I had to finish the job or it would spoil and go to waste.  The best thing I could think of to do was put on a plastic glove and finish canning the pumpkin.  It worked great.

I canned ten pints.  I’m usually very careful, but today was just one of those days. I went to take a lid off of a pot, without pot holders ( idiot) and the steam burned my fingers on my right hand. So, now both hands are bunged up. I hurried up and cut a leaf from my aloe plant to put on my burning fingers. It immediately soothed them. They burned most of the afternoon, but I kept applying the aloe and now they feel fine.

Later on I noticed one of my hens was not hanging with the rest of the flock. Went to check her out and noticed that she was limping and had a tear in the skin on her back near her wing.  A chickens skin is very thin.  I’m not sure what caused it, but I suspect it could be from the Roosters jumping on her back.  The poor thing looked pitiful.

I was able to catch her by throwing a towel over her. It was hard to tell the extent of the injury while trying to hold her covered in a towel. Mind you my hands were not in good working order, but I was able to clean the wound with warm soapy water and peroxide. She will have to be separated from the flock or they will begin to peck at her if she shows illness. I put straw in our large dog crate and gave her some water. That’s the best I can do for her. I will be surprised if she makes it. Chickens are susceptible to shock and infection.  Most injuries are fatal. We can only hope that she will recover.

It’s painful to see my animals hurt, but that’s part of farm life.  Injuries are bound to happen and out here and you have to be able to take care of them yourself.  After the events of today, hopefully I make it to bed without stubbing my toe or having to bandage a bloody dog paw.


November 6, 2010



We have had our first snow dusting of the season today.  Large fluffy snowflakes fell like dandruff from the sky.  Someone needs to use some Head and Shoulders Shampoo up there.

Actually it is a tranquil scene to watch through our picture window.  Cold and snowy outside, comfy and warm inside.  The wood stove has a warm glow showing through its window and a Lodge Pot full of Great Northern beans simmers on the top. The aroma of the chicken broth and ham hock that season them scents the air.  It definitely puts you in a grateful frame of mind to have these few simple things… heat and food. Life is good.

First Snow of the Year


November 1, 2010



We bought a Sun Oven a few weeks ago and have been dying to try it out.  Today we had clear skies, sunshine, and free time from any other obligations.


Sun Oven


We decided to make a simple hamburger stew that included common ingredients we had around the house.  This is something I usually make on top of the gas stove. I did brown the hamburger first and drained the grease before adding the other ingredients.

The instructions for the Sun Oven recommended using thin walled pots that have a dark finish.  We used an enamel ware pot that came with a camp set.  You can get them in the camping section of most stores.  The ingredients I used were:

hamburger (browned and drained)

three cloves of garlic minced

chopped onion, carrots, potatoes and green pepper

celery salt (I prefer fresh celery but I didn’t have any)

beef bullion cube

chopped zucchini ( I had some I froze from our garden)

canned or frozen corn

A little dried Thyme, parsley, rosemary and a bay leaf

about a teaspoon of Worchestershire sauce

a sprinkle of dried red peppers if you like a little spice

water to make a broth

I believe thats it and of course any kind of stew can have whatever you choose.  We put all the ingredients in the camp pot and placed it into the Sun Oven.  The oven has a temperature gage and you can control the temperature by following the sun.  Full sun will give you a temp of about 350 degrees.  It doesn’t matter if it is summer or winter.  We let the stew cook for about 4 1/2 hours.  Sonny checked on the placement of the oven about every half hour to make sure it was in direct sunlight. Letting it slowly simmer allowed all the flavors to come out and mingle together. The outcome was a tasty one pot meal.  Add a slice of homemade bread and you have a delicious dinner on cold evening.


Comfort Food


You don’t have to slow cook everything.  You could heat up a can of soup, or bake a casserole.  I am anxious to try baking some bread.  For some it may seem like a toy, but when you live off grid using a crock pot is a no, no.  I see this as a good tool to use in the summer when you need to use the oven but don’t want to heat up the house.  I think it is a good use of the suns power instead of using electric or propane.  That’s not to say I will cook with it everyday but I believe it could become a normal mode of cooking on sunny days.


October 29, 2010



Tuesday I got a call from Vicki asking if I wanted some freshly ground pork sausage.  She and Ronald had a hog slaughtered for their winter store of pork and there was more than enough sausage to go around.  They usually sell the excess to their friends for $2.00 a pound and it is already seasoned with spices.  Of course I wanted in on that deal and headed right over to get some.

Vickie greeted me at the door with a metal spatula in her hand. The smell of frying sausage filled the small kitchen and she quickly bustled back over to the stove where sausage patties were frying in two large iron skillets. Rows of pint canning jars sat next to the stove, some already filled with cooked patties.  I watched the master at work as she flipped the patties until they were perfectly browned and then placed them into the jars.  She poured grease into the jars about a third of the way giving me instructions as she went along.  Canning meat was new to me and I knew this was something I wanted to try.


Winter Sausage


She gave me a sample of a sausage patty to make sure it was to my liking.  When I took a  bite I could taste the freshness and the flavor was mild.  This was definitely good and I knew Sonny would like it too.  I left with eight pounds of sausage and of course a jar of elderberry jelly that she made this Spring and a jar of sausage patties.  You rarely leave Vickie’s empty handed and its hard to give anything back because there isn’t a thing they need.  But I will figure out something.

The rest of the day I canned sausage patties, but since I didn’t have a lot of fat I added a few cups of water to the drippings and boiled them.  Then I poured it in the jars to about a third. Next you pressure cook them for 75 minutes at 10psi.  I followed Vickie’s instructions, but I also followed some of the instructions I got from the internet. I made eight pints, but unfortunately two jars did not seal.  I put them in the fridge and we will eat them this weekend.  The lids were new and I followed the canning instructions so I think they may have been a couple of bad lids.  Sometimes that happens. You just have to make sure to refrigerate those jars and use them within a week.

The root cellar is starting to look like a root cellar with all the pretty jars on the shelves.  When my sister visited I asked her to bring me some more apples.  Sonny likes the apple sauce we canned on her first visit, so we canned up some more.


Pre-Apple Sauce


This time I made it slightly chunky instead of smooth.  We haven’t tried it yet so we’ll see which one he likes better.


October 25, 2010



My sister and her husband came for a visit this weekend.  It was the first time her husband Rick had been out to Pot Hole Farm. When he arrived and stepped out of the car Sonny and I instantly smiled and said,  “Yea, we live way out here.” We recognized the look on his face.  You know, the “Man, this is so far out it reminds me of a scene from the movie Deliverance” look.  We’re pretty used to that look, but it’s only a first impression. Rick is an outdoorsy guy and could probably work circles around Sonny and I. He was gracious enough to come out and lend a hand at cutting up some firewood.  So we will forgive him for “the look.”

We have two trees next to the house that tend to block sun from a portion of the PV Array every afternoon. We can’t afford to lose any of the suns rays and need all of them to charge the batteries. Those trees have been a constant thorn in Sonny’s side and he has been chomping at the bit to do something about it.  This could be a tricky operation.  The old apple tree would be easy to cut down, but the ancient cedar is another matter.  Its large and twisty and you cant tell which way it might fall.  It could potentially fall on the house, so Sonny opted to cut only the branches that cast shadows on the solar panels.  This was a job that called for reinforcements.  Rick and my cousin John volunteered to come to the front lines.

Shadowing Cedar Tree

They cut the apple tree down first, and cut the branches and trunk into firewood. My sister Janice and I loaded the wood into the wagon that was attached to the lawn mower and transported it to the backside of the woodshed. There we unloaded and stacked it to cure.  On the trips back she and Ruby, our Lab rode in the wagon. I wish I had gotten a photo to post but unfortunately I didn’t.  When I was little she used to give me wheel barrow rides for hours, so it was my turn to give back to her.  Your never too old for a wagon ride. It beats walking back and forth.

Next the guys tackled cutting down three trees on the hill across from the house. They left enough of the trunks so they could be used as fence posts. Next year we want to fence in that pasture for some goats. The men had been working hard but did one more chore before quitting time.

Future Goat Field

They pulled that eyesore of a water tank to the backside of the chicken coop. Last year when we had a big rain the tank didn’t have enough water in it and it popped out of the ground. It was actually a good thing because we found out we don’t need it. We can pump water directly from the well.

Old holding tank

I have to say I have a great brother-in-law. He not only worked all day cutting wood, he made some outstanding ribs for dinner. My sister made a good choice some thirty- seven ( I think ) years ago.  He’s always been ok in my book. Hope he enjoyed his visit to PHF and comes again to the backwoods of old West Virginny.

Hard Days work and a Great Supper

Oh, and that cedar tree?  It’s still casting some shadows. Unfortunately the limbs are too high and dangerous for Sonny to cut.  We will have to get a professional to do the job.



October 17, 2010



Last month I ordered 3 additional 210 watt Kyocera PV solar panels as part of my stage 2 upgrade.  I promptly ordered a 6 panel rack mounting system through Alt-E Solar Store but then had to wait over 4 weeks until DPW (the manufacturer) shipped it.  John and I decided to start the project first thing Saturday morning (right after a cup of coffee).


New Solar Panel Upgrade


The first action was to get to town to hit up Lowe’s for installation supplies. PVC conduit, 10 and 8 gauge wire, ground rod and clamps and of course some lunch and we were ready to finally get started around 2:00 p.m. About 4 hrs later we were covering up the trench and flipping the disconnect to “on”.

We set these panels to face South-East to gather the early morning sunlight before my main PV array even gets any sun on it. The “Rack Mount” is designed for 6 panels and soon we intend to add another 3 panel on the bottom to close-out the install. If all goes well it will happen sometime next month.


October 12, 2010



Last year we put our bird feeders on a standard Shepherds Hook type of thing.  It worked fine until something pretty heavy decided to bend the 5 foot hook to the ground. It looked like a big “U” when we found it. The plastic feeder was destroyed and the biggest piece remaining was about 2 inches. We were not sure if it was a bear or a raccoon that decided it was hungry enough to due it in.

Last weekend we decided to get the birds ready for this winter and wanted to try to do a better job and install a stronger system.  We picked up a 6 foot piece of Chain-Link fence post from Lowe’s and used the fence post hand pounder to get it into the ground. We put a cap on it, a hook and hung the feeder.  We will see how it holds up this winter.

New Feeder and Post

%d bloggers like this: