Rhythms of Fall

It’s the beginning of fall here in Wisconsin—my favorite time of the year. Everything is getting that tired look to it and the evening temperatures are beginning to dive a little more often into the 50s and 60s. The leaves are starting to change just a little. Soon I’ll be up in the woods cutting up dead trees for winter. It’s not nearly cool enough for the first fire yet, but that will come too. Soon I’ll have the smell of woodsmoke permeating the house as I enjoy the cool fall evenings in front of my wood stove.

Last week I began picking my grapes and apples. Both have produced abundantly this year. In fact, just one cane produced a little over 40 pounds of grapes. The apples are smaller than normal, but plentiful, weighing the trees down. The pears this year suffered from a lack of activity from helpful insects and an overwhelming quantity of the harmful variety. The point is that it’s a time for picking things and preserving them for the winter. There is a certain feeling that comes over you as you begin to bring things into the house and see the larder shelves swell with all you’ve produced. Most of the fruit will go into juice this year, which means my Victorio Strainer will work overtime.

As part of my fall preparations, I’m starting to dry the herbs that have grown all summer. My herb garden is a little limited this year because the weather just didn’t cooperate as much as it could have. Still, I have plenty of celery (actually lovage) seed to use, along with the dried leaves. The rosemary, two kinds of sage, and two kinds of thyme have all done well (though the rosemary is not quite as robust as I would have liked, it’s quite flavorful). The dehydrator is up and running now, helping me preserve the herbs I need for cooking this winter.

Of course, the herb garden produces more than just herbs for cooking—it also produces a robust number of items for tea. Right now I four kinds of mint growing: lime, lemon, chocolate, and spearmint. The first three are definitely used for drinking teas only because their subtle flavors are lost in other sorts of uses. The spearmint is used for tea, cooking, and mint jelly—that essential add-on for lamb meat. Rebecca actually had eight different kinds of mint growing at one time, but they have gotten mixed together over the years or were hit especially hard by this last winter. The herb garden will need some focused attention this upcoming spring to get it back into shape.

In some respects, the combination of a hard winter, a late spring, and a cool summer conspired to make this year less productive than most. It’s the reason that you really do need a three-year plan for stocking your larder to ensure that you have enough food for those years that are a little less plentiful. Fortunately, my larder has an abundant supply of everything needed to sustain life (and quite a large number of things we made purely for pleasure as well).

There are some fall-specific things that I’ll eventually take care of. You already know about the work part of it, but there is time for pleasure too. For example, I’ll take time for my usual picnic at Wildcat Mountain after the fall color begins to peak. So, how are your fall plans shaping up? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Engaging in the Fall Cleanup

For many people, fall is a time when they cut the grass the last time, take their car to the mechanic for winterization, check for air leaks in the windows, and ensure the furnace will run. These common chores affect anyone involved in self-sufficiency as well. For example, you still need to get your car ready—assuming you have one.

However, fall cleanup requires a lot more from anyone engaged in self-sufficiency because there are more facets to their environment. For example, fall is the time when you need to ensure your animal cages are completely cleaned. (Yes, you also clean them at other times, but fall is when you take everything apart and really clean it up.) If some of your animals are outdoors, you need to ensure they’ll have sufficient cover for the winter months. For us, that means scrubbing down every one of the rabbit hutches and letting them dry before we put a rabbit back inside. In addition, we add any manure under the cages to the compost heap. The chicken coop needs to be cleaned completely, the old hay replaced, and the windows closed. I also make sure I wash the window so the chickens can see out. It turns out that chickens like a nice view too.

Of course, you take the garden down after picking any remaining goodies and plant your winter rye to prevent erosion. The fall is a good time to look for potential soil issues and possibly get a soil test so that you know how to deal with problems the following spring. Likewise, your herb and flower gardens require attention so that any perennial plants will make it through the winter. However, don’t put mulch on immediately. Wait until the garden is frozen and then put the mulch on. Doing so will ensure that the plants are properly prepared for the winter.

You may not have thought of it, but all of your equipment has taken a beating during the summer months, including all of the equipment used for canning. This is a good time to scrub your pots and pans up and ensure they’re in good shape before you put them up. Make sure your pressure canner receives particular attention. Check to see if the gasket is in good shape, along with the rubber plug used for emergency pressure relief. Your stove will need a thorough cleaning and may require maintenance as well. Make sure everything is put away correctly so that you don’t have to waste a lot of time trying to find it in the late spring when you begin using it again.

Don’t think you’re finished yet. Now is the time to start walking the grounds looking for problems in your orchard. For example, it’s relatively easy to find pests that hide on trees during this time of the year. Make sure you check trees for problems associated with stress. For example, pear trees are prone to crack at the joints. You might need to mark some areas for special pruning in the spring. If a problem seems especially serious, you may want to address it now, rather than later.

Being self-sufficient means ending as well as you began. During the spring there is an excitement that builds that makes it easy to prepare for the new gardening season, but by the end of the season, all you really want to do is flop down in front of the wood stove. The time you take to prepare now will pay significant dividends in the spring. Let me know about your fall preparations at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Exercising Care in the Woods

It’s fall and the woods are quite beautiful. For the most part, the bugs have started packing it in, even though we haven’t had a frost yet. I can spend hours in the woods, enjoying a soft breeze, with nary a bite to show for it. There are times where I just sit on one of my stumps up there and wait for something to happen (it usually does). I never run out of interesting things to see in the woods, despite the fact that they really aren’t all that large.

Of course, it’s also the time of the year when I’m cutting wood for winter. So, I often go up with my chainsaw in hand, looking for wood to cut up. The first priority is to keep the woods clean, so I start by cutting anything that is already lying around. Even small wood burns, so I’m not too particular about what size the logs are. Sometimes I find a log that is quite dry and burns nicely lying right there on the ground. In fact, that’s where I found these piece that I cut up.

CarefulWoodCutting01

There is an equal mix of slippery elm and black locust in this case. Both woods burn quite nicely. These pieces are quite dry, but not rotted. Even if there were some rot, I’d take the wood because it’s better to keep the woods cleaned up whenever possible and wood with a little rot still burns just fine.

After I get done looking for fallen wood, I find any snags (trunks that lack limbs) that no one is using. It’s important not to cut down every snag because owls and other birds often nest in them. In addition, it could be a matter of self-preservation because bees will also nest in the snags at times. (For this reason, I actually put my ear up to the trunk and listen for a while.) On this particular day, I found a wonderful piece of black locust to cut up.

CarefulWoodCutting02

This snag looks like a mess. It doesn’t appear to be usable. The inside has rotted out and there are shards where the tree was hit by lightning. However, this is black locust and the wood is actually quite good. Cutting into it, I found that the outside had indeed rotted a little (up to a half inch), but the inside was both sound and dry. so, the snag ended up on the wood pile along with everything else.

On this particular day, I found everything I needed on the ground or as a snag. However, there are some days when I do need to cut a tree down. When this happens, I look for trees that are already completely dry (the bark has come off of its own accord) and no one is using. Even with these restrictions, I usually find all I need. All it takes is a little looking and given the beauty of these woods, looking is something I like to do.

Notice that these pictures show that the woods is intact. It’s what I try to achieve when I cut wood for winter. I leave all of the young trees and anything that’s alive intact as much as possible. Even the ground vegetation is left intact except for the narrow path I create for myself. (All the wood is carried down by hand to minimize damage.) Using management techniques like these ensures that the woods will continue to look beautiful and produce wood well into the future.

Have you taken a stroll through a woods lately? Let me know your thoughts about careful management techniques at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

First Snow

FirstSnow

Awoke to white,
what a delight,
the first snow holds us enthralled!

The season’s promise,
is there upon us,
as we prepare for a long winter’s nap.

First comes the fire,
an evening’s desire,
in a woodstove stoked with aromatic wood.

Then comes the cheering,
celebrations endearing,
as friends surround us with glee.

Amidst the swirling,
of flakes now whirling,
I see the ecstasies of days to come.

Copyright 2011, John Paul Mueller

 

Nature at Rest

The job is done,
summer is gone,
nature decides to rest.

Off comes the green garb of work,
displaying raiment of yellow and orange and red,
as nature presides over play.

Deer frolic in woods,
birds flutter in sky,
it’s time for a moment of joy.

As each bows its head,
sleep comes stealthily by,
nature succumbs to the calls of fall.

Winter comes soon,
some think doom,
but nature knows far better.

The promise of spring,
wells up within,
when nature will begin anew.

Copyright 2011, John Paul Mueller