Country life, canning, preserving, reality, homesteading, dogs, NYS, DIY, farming, veggies, pressure canning
20190906 00106b 6-1/2 minutes: Homesteading ! A much longer piece cut into 8: #2.

If all the veggies were to last through the winter, then different provision would have to be made for them. Usually, in November, they would be able to stay outside because the weather would already be cold. That year they had not only to be protected from cold, but also heat.

A root cellar is the usual solution, but, living on a mountain, (which is made of rock,) digging down wasn’t an option. Up was the only alternative. A treeless area below the side of the driveway looked almost big and flat enough. The men who delivered the 40 bales of hay threw them over the edge of the driveway and built me a little fort, 10’ x 10’ x 6’, by stacking the bales, three along and four high for each wall. I covered the whole thing with a large plastic tarp to keep out the rain and snow. It looked great!

During the first rain storm the plastic roof imploded from the weight of the water, and the carefully built hay-bale walls collapsed. Depressing.

The fort had to be rebuilt. Inspiration: a “tent carport” would keep the middle of the roof up, cover everything and keep it safe from the rain and snow. Great idea! That problem solved, at least in theory.

The next problem: the tent and veggies would get better protection from the prevailing winds, from the north and west, if relocated behind the house, and it would be easier to get to in the snow. That site was much flatter and had fewer rocks that had to be moved but it meant the original 40 bales of hay would have to be moved through the pathless woods – 100 feet away and uphill – and another nine more bales added. Oh, joy! Without the help of the delivery men it took me three days to maneuver the bales (on a long, skinny plastic ski toboggan) and rebuild the “fort,” but it seemed to work much better.

Snow is heavy so, once winter arrived, it would have to be brushed off the plastic tent-roof, to protect it from another disaster.

Previously I had bought 11 metal garbage cans, to protect the produce from the four-legged-and-furries. One type of veggie per can. Wooden slats were cut and placed across the bottom of each can, on which was put a half filled bushel basket. More slats were placed across its top and a second half-filled basket put on top of that. Thus two baskets were put into each can, with slats below and between them, to keep the veggies up off the bottom of the cans and each other. That way the contents wouldn’t get squooshed, and if water collected underneath the baskets, they would be sitting on slats, not in the water. Highly scientific!

The final bale of hay was split up and divided between the burlap bags used to bring the veggies home. Each bag was half filled with hay, to make a little cushion, and placed in the top of each can, under the lids. It reduced the empty space available for cold air to accumulate over the inhabitants of the cans. Everything was tucked in with old sleeping bags, and comforters etc., to keep the little darlings inside snuggled and safe from Jack Frost’s icy fingers.

During the summer I had done lots of regular preserving: tomatoes, ratatouille, peaches, plums, and pears; and jams: peach, pear, strawberry, and blueberry. After the holidays I would have to get the new produce into the freezers, before they went bad. Since freezer space was finite, the rest would end up as chutneys and preserves, on the free-standing shelves in the middle of the “cellar/fort”. But there would be plenty of food to last through the winter.

Lots more old comforters and sleeping bags wrapped them up and kept them warm. Although the temperature outside fell well below freezing, with the white plastic roof, the sun heated the “fort” into the 60s on sunny days. The ambient temperature inside remained at least 15° higher than outside and the veggies and preserves, under their covers, held in the 30s to low 40s even at night. I was very excited as all my treasures seemed happy in their new homes, as did everything already in jars.

To make sure the “fort” was properly insulated, the “door” had to be plugged with an upright bale of hay, and the plastic pulled down over it to prevent it from getting wet. Wet hay is self-combustible in the summer heat.

Retrieving the contents, when snow lay deep on the ground, was an interesting exercise for me, especially when all muffled up with a winter coat, scarves and gloves. Trying to remember which squash was in which bin, and behind which quilt, required labels – which didn’t exist. So it was a process of hide and seek, in almost icy temperatures. But it worked.

After the holidays, all the produce from Shaul’s, not already in jars, had to find its way into the freezers before it died. A lot of work but relatively quick and easy. A second and then a third freezer were necessary, but worth it to make sure the produce wouldn’t be lost. The first extra freezer chosen was relatively small, too small as it turned out, so a second one, used this time, had to cover the gap. It wasn’t ideal but beggars can’t be choosers.