Winter Homestead Preparations ~ A Few Tricks of The Trade

Winter Homestead Preparations

As winter fast approaches, the wise homesteader prepares. Having lived all my life in the frigid north, I have learned a thing or two about the realities of winter and the brutal war she can wage against man and beast. After 40 some odd years, I have found few things that make life more bearable and may just give you the upper hand in the battle against old man winter.

Stock Tank Heaters

Something as simple as a stock tank heater can save lots of time and aggravation. No one enjoys spending time, several times a day, breaking the ice on water tanks with an axe. Its hard work, you get yourself wet, and you risk cracking the tank. You also, slowly but surely, lose tank capacity as the ice on the sides builds up. This little add on is well worth the investment.

A Salamander

Here where I farm, a salamander type space heater is a must have tool. Ours runs on fuel oil, but you can choose the best fuel type for your needs. I have 125,000 BTU model and wouldn’t trade it for the world. When pipes get frozen this little beast can thaw them fast! When you have to work on something in the shop, this unit can heat the space to temperature above freezing. When the fuel system on a diesel tractor gels up I use a tarp and this unit to warm the machine up and liquefy the fuel again. When its -30 and all the water lines and drinking cups in the heifer barn freeze, I can run this heater for a few hours and make it like the Bahamas in there! After working outdoors for hours in minus temperatures I often sit in front of this thing on a 5 gallon pail and thaw myself out. This is some of the best money you could ever spend if you farm or homestead in the north.

Block Heaters

If you have a diesel tractor, an engine block heater will save you much grief. I prefer a “circulating tank style” heater. These simple little tools will save you a lot of time and misery. No more running the battery down cranking that engine, hoping that it will start.

Fuel Treatment

Any engines that need to be started in the winter should have their fuel tanks full and treated. Half full tanks will have condensation and lead to frozen lines and plugged up filters. All gas engines should have fuel treated with dry gas. All diesel fuel should be treated with anti-gel conditioner. Always have a bottle of Diesel 911 on hand. This treatment can de-gel fuel when you can’t get the salamander to the engine.

Heat Tape

If you have livestock, you need water. You can melt snow or haul water for the house but keeping livestock watered means you need to keep the plumbing thawed. In areas where freezing is a problem, heat tape will keep it thawed and running as long as you have electricity to run it.

Proper Winter Clothing

If you spend lots of time outdoors, you owe it to yourself to have the proper clothing. Having farmed in northern NY and trapped in Alaska where I worked outdoors when it was -60 F, I have learned how to dress warm. The first rule is to dress in layers. The second rule is to be smart enough to take layers off when you start to sweat. Always have several pairs of gloves on your person, so they can be changed out when they get wet. When I am on the tractor or otherwise not needing my fingers, these are my choice for covering my hands. Wool socks are a must have item for keeping your feet warm. When I was an Alaskan trapper, “Bunny Boots” were my footwear of choice. They are the warmest boot ever made. In the lower 48 the these boots are my favorite. They are very warm and a little easier to walk in.

Winter can be hard on homesteaders and many a greenhorn has quit after his first one was a bad one. These simple tips, if you choose to try them, will give you a better than average chance of coming into spring with your sanity still intact.

4 Essential Tools Every Homesteader Should Have

4 Essential Tools Every Homesteader Should Have

The life of a homesteader is made much easier when he or she is outfitted with the proper tools. These are 4 tools that I believe are essential for any homestead. This is not an exhaustive list by any means, its just 4 simple tools that I wouldn’t want to live without. These 4 tools will make your life easier, save you time, and make you more productive.

A Come-A-Long

come-a-longThis simple and inexpensive tool is something I use often and I am especially thankful for it when I am working alone. I own several of them and can’t imagine life without them! A come-a-long can be used to pull together buildings that are “puking out” at the seams, jack out stuck vehicles, and move heavy logs. Anchoring to a barn beam, I’ve moved 900lb silage bales down the barn floor with nothing more than the strength of one arm. The simple come-a-long makes hard jobs easy using a little mechanical advantage.

Hydraulic Bottle Jack

JackThe hydraulic bottle jack is a tool that is a “must have” item on any farmstead. We use these to jack up barns, houses, and outbuildings. We use them to jack up tractors and trucks when we need to change a tire or replace wheel bearings. The hydraulic jack can be used for a make-shift press when the need arises. These jacks are compact, durable, and reliable. When I need a jack, these are the ones I reach for most often.

Cordless Drill

cordless drillA high quality cordless drill is one of the most useful tools that any homesteader can own. With all the building and repair projects going on day to day, not being tied down with an extension cord is a liberating thing! Building chicken tractors and other portable livestock shelters goes so much faster when using a cordless drill to drive screws. In the field, repairs are quick and simple and done on the spot.

A Quality Multi-tool

2-supertool-300-in-useI’d give up my left hand before I gave up my Leatherman Super Tool. Being able to have several screwdrivers, a knife, a hardcore saw, a pair of wire cutters, and a pair of pliers in my pocket is something I’ve come to appreciate. No matter where I am and no matter what breaks, a good quality multi-tool can get me back home. I’ve carried one in the Alaskan back-country and on the farm for many years and it has saved my hide more times than I can recall. As with most things, you get what what you pay for. Cheap dime store imitations aren’t worth owning but a good one will soon become your most prized possession.

If you are just starting out in your homesteading journey, these are 4 tools that I would recommend having. Life without the proper tools can be disappointing and frustrating. Get off on the right foot by outfitting yourself with these simple, yet indispensable, tools and save yourself some grief.

Rick Stone’s “Year Round Gardening” Course ~ An Excellent Homestead Resource

Year Round Gardening, An Excellent Homestead Resource

Who wouldn’t like to garden more months of the year? Fall is always a somewhat depressing time for those who love gardening. The long wait until spring seems to drag on forever and the only consolation we have is seed catalogs to browse through. But it doesn’t have to be that way!

My friend, Rick Stone, is a Master Gardener from Utah who has been teaching people how to garden year-round for a while now. Rick teaches courses on basic gardening as well, but I really thought that my readers would appreciate this in-depth, year-round gardening course that will inspire and equip you to start using simple season extension methods. Earlier this month I interviewed Rick on my online radio show to talk about season extension. You can listen to it HERE. I found this course to be very informative and it has inspired me to do a little more to extend my gardening season here in the St Lawrence valley. Rick has generously offered a huge discount for my readers and listeners, that I will tell you about at the end of this post. First let me tell you what the “Year-round Gardening Course” contains.

Over 43 lectures and 5 hours of content!

How to Grow vegetables 365 days of the year in your garden using Cold frames and Hoop houses to protect your crops
How to Extend your gardens growing season into the late fall using simple crop protection.
How to Start your spring garden 6 to 8 weeks earlier using cold frames and hoop houses.
How to Build your own Cold Frame or Hoop house to add to your garden.
How to Protect your garden vegetables using simple fabric row covers.
How to Grow the most productive and hardy crops for late season and winter harvest

Rick has decided to offer this course to North Country Farmer readers at a 67% off discount. That means you can have all 43 lectures for a mere $10 instead of the regular $30 price. The only catch is that it is only available at this price until November 1st 2015 and you must use this link to get the discounted price. If you would like to extend your garden season, grow more pounds of food per square foot per year, and learn some new skills, I highly recommend purchasing this course (which includes lifetime access to all the videos) to view this winter. Learn the art of year-round gardening this winter and start implementing these skills come spring!

3 Productive Homestead Recyclers

3 Productive Homestead Recyclers

One thing that separates a productive homestead from an expensive hobby farm is the homesteader’s ability to close waste loops and recycle nutrients back into the production system. Here are three easy ways to get started accomplishing this task…


140610_001No matter how big or how small your acreage, composting is one of the easiest ways to capture waste nutrients and return them to your homestead. Weeds from the garden, kitchen scraps, manure from animals, spoiled hay, and many other things can be turned into a supercharged, soil building, fertilizer that will make your homestead more productive. If it once was alive, it can be made into compost. The great thing about compost is that anyone can make it, no matter if you have a 1/4 acre or 400 acres. We like to fill our raised beds with it to grow annual vegetable crops, apply it to pastures, and also hay fields. If you really want to learn everything you could possibly want to know about compost, I highly recommend the old Rodale classic called the Complete Book of Composting. For a quick overview of the process see this short article.


Fred ChickenChickens are probably the most popular kind of livestock for the average smallholder, and for good reason. Chickens provide meat and eggs, are inexpensive to purchase, easy to handle, and require minimal infrastructure. The best part about chickens though, is their ability to recycle waste. Chickens will eat garden scraps, kitchen scraps, insects and animal carcasses. After eating these things they produce meat, eggs, and high nitrogen manure! They can even be used for turning compost, taking advantage of their love for scratching. The lowly chicken is a homestead recycling superstar!


hog The hog is, by far, my favorite homestead recycler. No other animal can compare with the hog in terms of producing more useful products while closing waste loops on the farmstead. There are few things more enjoyable than turning table scraps, garden scraps, canning scraps, spoiled fruits, and extra milk into hams, bacon, sausage, and lard! Hogs are also great compost turners, using their snouts to dig and churn bedded packs. A couple of feeder hogs can be kept outdoors within an electric fence, with minimal shelter, and be ready to butcher as soon as cold weather hits. Every homestead should have a hog just to take care of waste.

Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening: How to Grow Nutrient-Dense, Soil-Sprouted Greens in Less Than 10 days

Year-Round Salad Gardening

Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening: How to Grow Nutrient-Dense, Soil-Sprouted Greens in Less Than 10 days
Paperback 192 pages
Peter Burke

Would you like to grow nutrient dense sprouted salad greens all winter with no pumps, no lights, and no greenhouse? In Peter Burke’s Year-Round Indoor Salad gardening you find a simple, low-tech way to do just that. Burke grows all his soil sprouted greens on windowsills in small trays with remarkable yields. This is undoubtedly the easiest, most cost-effective and productive way to provide your family with greens. I have to admit, I was very impressed with this system and plan to give it a try myself!

The book is wisely divided into three sections. The first being a general overview of the system, the second being a “how to”, and the third being a wonderful seed by seed directory of sorts that looks at each seed with information on culture, uses and troubleshooting tips. This section also has recipes that utilize the different varieties of sprouts. Below is a listing of the chapters in each section…

Part One
Fresh Greens All Year
The Incredible, Edible Indoor Salad

1. Fresh Greens in 7 Days: An Introduction
2. Genesis of the Method
3. The Nature of Soil Sprouts is Counterintuitive
4. Ten Good Reasons to Sprout in Soil versus by Traditional Methods
5. The Difference between Soil Sprouts and Microgreens
6. Becoming a Daily Gardener
7. Tools and Accessories

Part Two
How To Grow Soil Sprouts

Get Ready Guide
Quick Start Guide
8. Seeds
9. Soil vs a Soil-less Growing Medium
10. Trays and Planters
11. Fertilizer
12. Planting, Growing, and Greening
13. Harvest and Storage
14. Soil Sprouts by the Numbers

Part Three
Seed Reference and Soil Sprout Recipes

15. Seed by Seed
16. Recipes
17. A Final Word about Farming

I’ve seen books and articles on growing salad greens indoors numerous times. Most of them over complicate the idea, require sizable investments in equipment and advocate systems that, when considering inputs and other expenses compared to yields, are grossly inefficient. This book is the exact opposite! If the idea of growing fresh, nutrient dense food on the windowsill, when its -30 degrees outdoors, and the snow is knee deep, sparks your interest then I highly recommend this revolutionary little book. I’m sure that you’ll love it and will, like me, be inspired to give this a try!

3 Simple Rules for Raising Healthy Bottle Calves

Bottle Calves

Many homesteaders begin adding cattle to their farm by buying a calf to raise. Whether this calf is going to be a future milk cow or is going to be hamburger and steaks, there are some simple rules that will help insure a successful experience with your new baby bovine.

Rule #1
Avoid Sale Barn Calves

Many people buy their first calf at a sale barn only to regret the decision later. The sale barn is the worst place to buy your first calf. Sale barns are full of every disease and pathogen you can think of, and stressed out baby calves are the perfect host. When buying a calf at the sale barn you have no idea where it came from or whether or not it received colostrum or had it’s navel dipped. Sale barn calves are just to much of a liability for a novice calf raiser. Instead, you should buy your calf from a local dairy farmer that you trust. Offer him a little more than the going market price for properly started calf. It’s a win/win situation for both parties.

Rule #2
Provide Dry, Draft Free, Well Ventilated Living Conditions

Be prepared to provide the proper living conditions for a healthy calf. Calves must have plenty of dry bedding. Wet calf pens will result in sick calves. Calves also need good ventilation to prevent pneumonia. In the winter you must be sure that calves are not in a drafty area. While ventilation is important, a cold draft directly on a calf in the winter will also result in sickness. Keep feed and water containers clean.

Rule #3
Be Observant and Prepared

Watch your calf carefully and be observant. Keep an eye open for droopy ears, a wet nose, a wet tail, coughing, heavy breathing, and any odd behavior. At the first sign of anything out of the ordinary, take the calf’s temperature with a rectal thermometer. A calf that is developing pneumonia will have a high temp. Pneumonia can be treated with penicillin or organically. Be sure to have electrolytes on hand. If your calf develops scours, electrolytes will help to keep the calf from becoming dehydrated. Dehydration kills calves and sometimes does so swiftly. Being alert to any changes in your calf’s behavior, making the proper diagnosis, and treating in a timely manner can be the difference between life and death.

How To Trap A Coon Without Catching The Barn Cats

How To Trap A Coon Without Catching The Barn Cats

The raccoon is often the most damaging nuisance animal on the homestead. From robbing eggs from nests, killing chickens and rabbits, to eating livestock feed or raiding the sweetcorn patch; the masked bandit causes a good deal of grief to the smallholder. Coons are fairly easy to catch but trapping them around the barnyard poses some problems. Most homesteaders keep barn cats for rodent control and the common baits used for coons also attract barn cats. Here is how we trap coons without catching cats…

Use Cage Type Live Traps

First, around the farm we don’t use the same traps that we use on our fur trapping line. Instead of foot hold traps or body gripping traps, we exclusively use live traps. Doing this means we can release barn cats unharmed if they happen to end up in our trap.

Feed The Cats!

Make sure your barn cats are feed well when you are trapping coons in their home range. A hungry cat will be much more likely to mess up your set.

Use Bait That Is Less Attractive To Cats

This is the Real Secret. Even when using cage type traps, it is important to keep the cats out of the trap so that it is open and working when the coon gets there. On our fur trapline we use sardines, shellfish oil and animal gland lures to catch coons. These are fool proof coon catchers but they are also very attractive to cats. If you use such baits, within minutes after you leave, a cat will get trapped leaving the coon free to wreck havoc on your property. I experimented with many, many baits until I found the greatest cat proof bait there is. Can you guess what it is?

Marshmallows! Coons have a notorious sweet tooth that cats (unless very hungry) don’t seem to have. Marshmallows combine the smell of sugar with the eye appeal of it’s bright white color. We almost never catch barn cats in a set baited with marshmallows. In fact I don’t think that it has happened more than once in the past 10 years. If there is a coon in the area he just can’t resist 3 or 4 marshmallows.

Tips For Halter Breaking Calves

Tips For Halter Breaking Calves

Having your cattle halter broke makes life a lot easier. The best time to halter break a bovine is when it is a calf. Sure, you can do it at any age but there is a lot less fighting and a lot less brute strength required when halter breaking calves. The older you get, the more you appreciate that. It is my goal to be able to walk up to any of our 60 some head of cattle and put a halter on their head and lead them to the barn. This is a reality because my children halter break most of the cattle when they are young. Halter breaking calves isn’t rocket science but if you don’t follow some basic rules you will ruin the calves and cause more harm than good. Lets look at some of the basic rules to halter breaking calves…

Have A Proper Sized Halter

When halter breaking a calf it is important that you use a halter that properly fits the calf. Don’t try to use a cow halter on a calf. Buy a rope halter that is sized for a calf and save yourself some grief.

Be Patient

Baby calves have very short attention spans. Keep your training sessions short and ALWAYS end on a positive note.

Tug and Release

The proper way to halter break a calf is to gently tug on the halter until the calf takes a step forward. As soon as the calf takes a step you need to release the pressure on the halter. This is the reward for taking the step. As previously mentioned, it is important to end on a positive note; before the calf loses interest. Never end a session with the calf refusing to step. The last thing that happens is what will stick with the calf.

*Note~ (for very stubborn calves tie them up with the halter for few hours. They will soon learn that fighting it will not get them anywhere)

Make It Enjoyable

After finishing the session, before the calf loses interest and on a positive note, you should reward the calf some more. Give her a little grain, brush her and pet her. Make the experience something the calf looks forward to.


Training calves to lead is something that pays dividends over the life of the animal. The ability to easily halter and work with cattle begins when they are young. If you follow these simple tips, you will be able to halter break your calves and reap the rewards.

Moringa Seedling Giveaway

Moringa Oleifera Seedling

Moringa Seedling Giveaway

Here is a really cool giveaway that I’m excited to be a part of. The Moringa plant has become quite a topic of conversation in permaculture circles. Knowing that my readers are “plant nerds” like me, I couldn’t turn down the chance to let you in on this giveaway!

If you’re not familiar with the Moringa tree, here is some information (gleaned from Wikipedia and Blue Yonder Urban Farm)…

Moringa seeds are high in Oleic acid, the fatty acid that Olives are known to be high in. It is said that they contain so much oil that you can press the oil out with your fingers.

Some nutrients found in Moringa are; Vitamin C, A, E, B-Complex; Folates, Pyridoxine B-6, Thiamin B-1, Riboflavin, Pantothenic Acid, Niacin. Calcium, Selenium, Iron, Copper, Manganese, Zinc, and Magnesium.

Apart from the seeds, its bark, sap, seeds, oil, leaves, roots and flowers are used in making traditional medicine in many countries

Moringa leaves are the most widely used parts of this plant. These leaves are edible. They contain three times more iron than spinach.

Feeding the high-protein leaves to cattle has been shown to increase weight gain by up to 32% and milk production by 43 to 65%

It also has several antibacterial properties and hence can be used as a purifier and as a natural detoxifier. Moringa seeds mixed in impure water can help in absorbing all the impurities.

Moringa seed cake, obtained as a byproduct of pressing seeds to obtain oil, is used to filter water using flocculation to produce potable water for animal or human consumption. Moringa seeds contain dimeric cationic proteins which absorb and neutralize colloidal charges in turbid water, causing the colloidal particles to clump together, making the suspended particles easier to remove as sludge by either settling or filtration. Moringa seed cake removes most impurities from water. This use is of particular interest for being nontoxic and sustainable compared to other materials in moringa-growing regions where drinking water is affected by pollutants.

It tolerates a wide range of soil conditions, but prefers a neutral to slightly acidic (pH 6.3 to 7.0), well-drained sandy or loamy soil.[9] In waterlogged soil the roots have a tendency to rot.[9] Moringa is a sun- and heat-loving plant, thus does not tolerate freezing or frost. Moringa is particularly suitable for dry regions, as it can be grown using rainwater without expensive irrigation

Moringa can be grown as an annual or perennial plant. In the first year, all pods are edible. Later years also bear inedible bitter pods.

It can reach heights of 35 feet and is commonly harvested so it grows as a shrub or hedge.

The leaves are the most nutritious part of the plant, being a significant source of B vitamins, vitamin C, provitamin A as beta-carotene, vitamin K, manganese, and protein, among other essential nutrients. When compared with common foods particularly high in certain nutrients per 100 g fresh weight, cooked moringa leaves are considerable sources of these same nutrients. Some of the calcium in moringa leaves is bound as crystals of calcium oxalate[28] though at levels 1/25th to 1/45th of that found in spinach, which is a negligible amount.

The leaves are cooked and used like spinach and are commonly dried and crushed into a powder used in soups and sauces. As with most foods, heating moringa above 140 °F destroys some of the nutritional value.

Spring is the perfect time to Plant Moringa, it will love the heat that is about to come and take off… Moringa can grow up to 20 feet in one season if given enough heat, water and nutrients.

Here Are The Details

2 Winners

4 Moringa Oleifera Seedlings & 10 Seeds each


May 17 – May 20th – 12 am EST


$37.50 each winner plus the cost of shipping


Blue Yonder Urban Farms

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Moringa Seedlings on Amazon

Who Can Enter

Anyone who is 18 years or older and resides in the continental US only… No Alaska or Hawaii shipping.

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A Healthy Economy Begins With A Healthy Agriculture

There is much talk these days about how to “fix” the nation’s economic woes. Almost every proposed solution is flawed at the most basic and presuppositional level. Some believe that wealth is created by government programs or spending, others think it comes by printing paper money, but almost no one recognizes the most basic economic truth; “all wealth comes from the ground”.

In Defense Of A Solar Powered Economy

True economic growth and real increase begins with the sun, soil, and rain. Only in agriculture can we produce something, through God’s providence, that didn’t exist before. Let me give you an example of how this works. Let’s use a pasture-based dairy as an example…

A wonderful polyculture of grasses and legumes spring from the earth with nothing more than sunlight, soil, and rain.
A Healthy Economy

Add a dairy cow who eats her fill, lays down to rest, and chews her cud.
A Healthy Economy

Now, as if by a miracle, we harvest milk that previously did not exist.
A healthy Economy

Multiply this by 30 cows.
A Healthy Economy

This milk enters the local economy and generates about $14,000 per dairy cow through the multiplier effect. From those who haul the milk, bottle the milk, and stock the store shelves to those who sell parts and supplies to farmers, many jobs are created that would not have been there if not for the sun, soil, rain, and cows. This wealth was a true increase and not an accounting sleight of hand.

Our economy moved away from a land based, raw materials economy a long time ago and replaced it with a consumer economy built on the fraud of fiat currency. Tim Wightman asks the question, How much money did the economy lose by moving to a consumer driven economy?

From 1952 to 1982 we have conservative estimates of five trillion dollars ($5,000,000,000,000) removed from the U.S. economy from the creation of the first Farm Bill and it’s upwards creation of the money flow. We moved the money out of the hands and purchasing power of the local economy to corporations, even though everyone lost out on the five trillion not produced in the process.

Again, according to Writman, agriculture is the king when it comes to the multiplying effect it has on the economy. Look at how the others stack up against the queen of all vocations…

Agricultural raw materials have a multiplier effect of seven.

All other raw materials like lumber, iron, brick etc. have a multiplier effect of three to five.

Big box chain stores have a multiplier effect of at best two

If we are serious about building a healthy and robust economy, it must begin with agriculture. There is really no other option. In 1769, Ben Franklin, in his Positions to be Examined Concerning National Wealth, concluded that there was only one morally acceptable way for a nation to create wealth. In his words..

There are but three ways for a nation to generate wealth….

1. By War, which permits taking by force the wealth of other nations.

2. By Trade, which to be profitable requires cheating. For example if we give and receive an equal amount of goods and services through trade, there is no profit other than that obtained in our own production cycle.

3. By Agriculture, through which we plant the seeds and create new wealth as if by miracle.

It’s still true in 2015 and the sooner we realize this the better!