Harvest Festival 2015

Harvest Festival is one of my favorite holidays of the year. What, you haven’t heard of Harvest Festival? Well, it happens each year sometime during September. The date isn’t precise because you just can’t hold Mother Nature to a specific time to make the majority of the fruits and vegetables ripe. That said, the harvest does happen every year and it’s a time to celebrate, even though it also means hard work. I’ve presented Harvest Festival in the past:

What made this Harvest Festival different is that I did the majority of the work on my own. There was lots to do, of course, and I plan to talk about some of the things I did in future posts. This year the Harvest Festival included getting some of my wood for the winter into the basement. My friend Braden helped me get the wood down there—it’s a big job even for two people. I now have five cords down there and two cords outside. Seven cords will take me through most winters, but I’ll cut another cord just in case things get extra cold. The wood you see in the picture is mostly slab wood, with about a cord of logs underneath.

John and Braden standing next to a huge pile of wood.
Getting the firewood stacked in the basement was a big job.

This year the apples ended up as chips for the most part. I also saved some for eating. The larder already has all applesauce, juice, pie filling, and odd assorted other apple products I could use. The remaining apples ended up with friends. I did make up pickled crab apples this year and did they ever turn out nice. I also made a crab apple vinaigrette salad dressing and canned it. The result is quite nice. For once, my pears let me down. The weather just wasn’t conducive to having a good pear crop. I did get enough pears for eating and a few for sharing as well.

Every year is good for something though and it was a banner squash year. The squash vines grew everywhere. At one point, the squash was chest high on me—I’ve never seen it grow like that.

 

A largish squash patch with chest high squash plants.
The squash grew like crazy this year!

The picture shows the squash about mid-summer. By the end of the summer they had grown into the garden (overwhelming the tomatoes) and into the grass. The squash also grew larger than normal. I ended up with a total of 700 pounds worth of squash (much of which has been preserved or distributed to friends). Here is some of the squash I harvested this year.

 

The squash patch produced three kinds of squash in abundance this year.
A cart full of squash.

The largish looking round green squash (one of which has a yellow patch on it) are a Japanese variety, the kabocha squash. So far, I’m finding that they’re a bit drier and sweeter than any of my other squash. I think I could make a really good pie with one and they’ll definitely work for cookies. Unlike most winter squash, you can eat the skin of a kabocha squash, making it a lot easier to prepare and it produces less waste. Given that I received these squash by accident, I plan to save some of the seeds for next year. The squash I was supposed to get was a buttercup squash. The two look similar, but are most definitely different (especially when it comes to the longer shelf life of the kabocha).

Canning season was busy this year. I’ve started filling in all the holes in the larder. For one thing, I was completely out of spaghetti sauce. Even though making homemade spaghetti sauce is time consuming, it’s definitely worth the effort because the result tastes so much better than what you get from the store. I also made a truly decadent toka plum and grape preserve and grape and pear juice. I’ve done hot water bath canning by myself before, but this was the first year I did pressure canning on my own. Let me just say that it all comes down to following the directions and not getting distracted. My two larder shelves are looking quite nice now (with Shelby on guard duty).

 

The larder contains two shelving units and a freezer.
A view of the larder from the front.

The right shelving unit contains mostly fruit products of various sorts and condiments. Yes, I even make my own ketchup and mustard. Of course, some of the squash also appear on the shelves, along with my cooking equipment and supplies. Let’s just say there isn’t a lot of room to spare.

 

Fruit products dominate the right shelving unit.
Fruit products dominate the right shelving unit.

The left shelving unit contains mostly vegetables and meats. In years past I’ve canned venison, pork, and chicken. This year I thought I might try canning some rabbit as well. Canning the meat means that it’s already cooked and ready to eat whenever I need it. The meat isn’t susceptible to power outages and it lasts a lot longer than meat stored in the freezer. Even though canning meat can be time consuming and potentially dangerous when done incorrectly, I’ve never had any problem doing so.

 

The left shelving unit contains mostly vegetables and meats.
The left shelving unit contains mostly vegetables and meats.

Harvest Festival 2015 has been a huge success. The point is that I have a large variety of different foods to eat this winter, which will make it easier to maintain my weight and keep myself healthy. I had a great deal of fun getting everything ready. There was the usual music, special drinks, and reminiscing about times past. What makes your harvest preparations joyful? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

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.

 

Time to Check for Tent Caterpillars

A lot of the documentation I read about tent caterpillars online says that they’re relatively harmless, which is true when they appear on certain kinds of trees. However, when it comes to fruit trees, tent caterpillars can become a horrible problem. In fact, tent caterpillars nearly killed our plum trees (which are still recovering three years later).

The problem is one of tree growth. A lot of trees get a secondary growth of leaves. When the tent caterpillars do their job during the mid-spring to late-spring months, they damage the first growth of leaves. The trees can recover with the secondary growth. However, many fruit trees get just one set of leaves for the entire summer, so when the tent caterpillars damage them, the tree is stripped for the summer and can’t store enough energy for the winter months.

Tent caterpillars also tend to strip fruit trees, partly because they’re smaller than some of the other trees that are affected by them. In fact, that’s what happened to our plum trees. The foliage was stripped before we knew what was happening and the trees simply didn’t recover. After viewing other trees the tent caterpillars have attacked, it becomes obvious that they really are just a pest at times.

Part of the solution is to inspect the trees carefully during pruning. Unfortunately, even a close inspection won’t reveal all the tent caterpillar clusters and some hatch. During the spring months I take regular tours of the orchard to look for the tent caterpillar nests, especially during the early morning when the night moisture reveals the nests with greater ease. (The inspections are also good exercise and are quite pleasant, so it’s not really work in the traditional sense of the word.) I hand pick the caterpillars and ensure I crush them. Removing them from the trees simply invites them to come back later.

The trees that seem most affected by tent caterpillars are plums and apples. Cherries are also affected, but the tent caterpillars haven’t acquired a taste for the Mesabi cherries for whatever reason (the yellow-bellied sapsuckers tend to avoid them as well). Untouched are the pears, which don’t seem to attract nearly as many pests at other trees on our property do.

A proactive approach to dealing with tent caterpillars is essential if you want to maintain tree vitality. Make sure you take that walk each day to mellow out, improve your health, and keep your trees healthy. Let me know your thoughts about tent caterpillars at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Fermenting Fruit and Animals

Every year a certain amount of fruit falls from our trees and ends up rotting on the ground. For some people, that would be the end of the story. A few others might clean up the resulting mess. However, we choose to leave it in place. The fruit actually ferments and produces alcohol. Even through many people don’t realize it, fermentation is a natural process that would happen quite easily without anyone’s help. In fact, some of the best tasting foods, such as sauerkraut, are naturally fermented (most sauerkraut you buy in the store isn’t naturally fermented and you’d be able to taste the different readily if it were).

It turns out that the animals in the area enjoy imbibing in a little fermented fruit. Our experience isn’t uncommon either—it happens all over the world. There is never enough fruit left over to make the animals terribly drunk (as happened recently to a moose in Sweden). Most of the time they appear to get a bit happy and go on their way. Until the other day, all I had ever seen eating the fruit were the rabbits and deer in the area. So, it surprised me a little to see our laying hens swaying back and forth on their way to the coop. It seems that they also enjoyed the fermented pears lying on the ground.

All of the fruit we grow (apples, pears, plums, cherries, and grapes) will ferment given time. You might wonder how the fermentation takes place. The easiest way to see the start of fermentation is to look at unwashed grapes, especially wild grapes. If you look carefully, it appears that they’re covered with dust. That’s not actually dust, it’s wild yeast. When the fruit is ripe enough and the yeast is able to breach the skin, fermentation begins.

If it’s so easy to create alcohol from natural sources, you might wonder what all the hubbub is about in buying yeast. Different yeast have different properties. When you rely on a wild yeast, you get varying results. Cultured yeast has known properties, so it works better when making bread or wine. The results are repeatable. In addition, using a cultured yeast makes it easier to stop the natural conclusion of the fermentation process, which is always some type of vinegar-like substance (more specifically, lactic acid).

At issue here is how much responsibility a landowner has to nature when it comes to fermented fruit. Because we pick the vast majority of our fruit, the animals in our area get a little happy and that’s about the extent of what happens. When you leave full trees of fruit to rot though, it could become a problem for the wildlife in your area, such as that moose in Sweden. If you can’t pick your fruit for whatever reason, try to find someone who will. Otherwise, you might find yourself trying to correct the errant judgements made by the wildlife in your area when it gets drunk. Let me know your thoughts about fermentation and animals at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Harvest Festival 2013

Normally Harvest Festival is a well-organized event for us. I plan the time carefully and include a week out of the office to ensure I have time to harvest the last of the garden and all the fruit without problem. However, all the planning in the world won’t account for the vagaries of nature every time. Even though the Harvest Festivals in 2011 and 2012 went off precisely as planned, the Harvest Festival this year ended up being one emergency after another. It started when our fruit ripened three weeks sooner than expected—make that half the fruit. The other half of the fruit is ripening this week on schedule. The odd ripening schedule points out another potential issue with global warming, but more importantly, it demonstrates the requirement for flexibility when you’re self-sufficient. Yes, it’s possible to plan for a particular outcome, but what you get could be an entirely different story.

This year’s Harvest Festival was stretched out over three weeks while I continued to write and do all of the other things I normally do. (Fortunately, Rebecca was able to put many of the tasks she needs to perform on hold.) Of course, the dual work requirements made for some really long hours. Creating an enjoyable work environment is one of things that Rebecca and I work really hard to obtain. It’s part of our effort to make our close relationship work. So, this Harvest Festival included all of the usual music and other special environmental features we normally have. Lacking this year was much in the way of game playing, but it was a sacrifice we needed to make.

One of the bigger tasks we took on this year was processing four bushels of corn that someone gave us (all in a single day). Actually, the corn came from a few different sources, but the majority came from a single contributor. Of course, we started by husking the corn and getting all of the silk off.

HarvestFestival011

The next step is to cut all of the corn off the cob. This step can be a little tricky. You need a moderately sharp knife around 8″ long. If the knife is too sharp, you’ll take off some of the cob with the kernels. A knife that is too dull will damage the corn and make a huge mess. The knife needs to be long enough so that you can remove the kernels safely—a pairing knife would be an unsafe option.

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We use a raw pack approach when working with the corn. You want to be sure to pack the corn firmly, but not crush it. Rebecca always takes care of this part of the process because she has just the right touch.

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Each pint or quart is topped off with boiling water at this point. We don’t add anything else to our corn. The corn needs to be processed in a pressure canner because it’s a low acid food (the processing time varies, so be sure to check your canning book for details, we rely on the Ball Blue Book and have never had a bad result).

HarvestFestival041

We had four fresh meals from the four bushels of corn. There is nothing quite so nice as corn roasted on the barbecue. We also gave the chickens an ear (plus all of the cobs). They seem to have quite a good time pecking out all the kernels.

HarvestFestival051

Even with these few subtractions, we ended up with 42 pints (each pint will last two meals using the recommended serving size of ½ cup) and fourteen quarts (used for soup and for company) out of the four bushels of corn. As a result, we have enough corn in the larder now for about 1½ years (a total of 140 servings).

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Our Harvest Festival this year included processing pears, grapes, apples, a wide variety of vegetables, and even some of the meat chickens (125 ¾ pounds worth on a single day). The point is that we did get the work completed and we did it while still having as much fun as is possible. We’re both admittedly tired and still resting up. Still to come is the garden cleanup and the wood cutting, and then we’ll have an entire winter to rest up for next spring. Let me know about your latest self-sufficiency emergency at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Hornets in the Pear Tree

It always pays to look at your trees carefully before you do anything with them. You never know what will be living there, especially if you’re like me and don’t use noxious sprays. There are many times where birds are nesting in the trees and I try my best not to disturb them. Trees also harbor a number of insects and other animals. Whatever is hiding in that tree, it won’t be apparent when you first approach.

Hornets01

For example, this pear tree looks perfectly normal. I was approaching it one morning to pick the ripe pears and it looked just like this when I first saw it. However, I always exercise caution when I want to do something with the tree and in this case, caution was very much warranted. Hiding in the tree was a hornet’s nest (about 24″ tall and about 12″ in diameter).

Hornets02

Even when you get up close (and this was as close as I dared to get), the hornet’s nest isn’t immediately obvious. You really need to look before you do anything or suffer the consequences. Unfortunately, this tree has around 60 pounds of fruit on it. The fruit will likely go to waste because it isn’t worth getting stung to retrieve it. The deer will likely enjoy some good meals off us this fall as the pears drop and ferment.

Of course, the first thought would be to get someone to remove the nest, but the cost of doing so would far outweigh any benefit obtained from retrieving the fruit. In addition, hornets are one of those odd insects that are neither completely useful nor a complete nuisance. In the spring and early summer, hornets are helpful predators that actually kill off extremely harmful pests. The particular kind of hornet that we have, the bald faced hornet, also helps pollinate our trees. It’s one of eleven pollinators that I’ve identified that visit all of our trees during the spring. In other words, killing the hornets is a bad idea.

During the fall months, the tastes of the hornet change and they begin craving sugar. That means eating into some of the fruit we grow. However, they’re only attracted to fully ripe fruit that is almost to the point of being a little overripe. We avoid damage from the hornets by picking our fruit when it’s just a little underripe. When a hornet has made a small hole, we can brush it away. The bald faced hornet isn’t aggressive except when it comes to its nest (or outright abuse by humans). Respectful treatment doesn’t result in a sting (at least, Rebecca and I haven’t been stung by them them entire time we’ve had fruit trees, which is over 17 years now). The only thing that will really get you into trouble is disturbing the nest, which is why that tree will remain unpicked this year.

Once winter arrives, the majority of the hornets will die. The new queens will live on in the center of the nest, ready to emerge in the spring. What I’ll do is cut the nest out of the tree during a day when the temperatures are below freezing, move the nest to a sheltered tree in the woods, and tie it into place. When spring comes, the new queens will emerge in the near woods, produce a brood, and those new worker hornets will help pollinate our trees.

Discovering how to work with insects is an essential part of being self-sufficient. If I were to take the same approach that most people take, it would cost me money to remove the nest and then it would cost me more money when my trees aren’t pollinated properly in the spring. Taking the approach I am now is counterintuitive, but it’s also the best approach to use. Let me know your thoughts about hornets at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Every Year is a Good and a Bad Year (Part 2)

Each year is different. It’s one of the things I like best about gardening and working in the orchard. You never quite know what is going to do well. It’s possible to do absolutely everything right (or wrong) and still end up with a mystery result. In the original Every Year is a Good and a Bad Year post, we had a combination of personal events conspire to derail the garden to an extent, yet we still ended up with an amazing crop of some items.

This year it’s a combination of personal and weather issues. We had a really wet spring and the warm weather was late in coming. After attempting to plant our potatoes twice (and having them rot both times), we decided that this probably wasn’t going to be a good potato year. In fact, a combination of wet weather in the spring, a really late frost, a few scorcher days, followed by unseasonable coolness have all conspired to make our garden almost worthless this year. (A pleasant exception has been our brassicas, which includes items like broccoli.) Of course, that’s the bad news.

The amazing thing is that our fruit trees and grape vines have absolutely adored the weather and a bit of a lack of quality weeding time. The pears are so loaded down that I’m actually having to cut some fruit in order to keep the branches from breaking. The grapes are similarly loaded. One vine became so heavy that it actually detached from the cable holding it and I had to have help tying it back into place. Nature is absolutely amazing because there is always a balance to things. A bad year in one way normally turns into a good year in another when you have a good plan in place.

We keep seeing the same lesson from nature—variety is essential. When you create a garden of your own, you absolutely must plan for a variety of items to ensure that at least some of the items will do well and your larder will stay full. Eating a wide variety of food also has significant health benefits. Although you might read articles about the “perfect” food, there is in reality no perfect food. In order to maintain good health, you need to eat a variety of foods and obtain the nutrients that each food has to offer. It seems as if nature keeps trying to teach that lesson by ensuring that some items will be in short supply during some years.

What sorts of items do you find are highly susceptible to the weather? Which items seem to grow reasonably well each year? Let me know your thoughts at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Early Fruit Harvest

I’m continually reminded by the weather that nothing is certain about gardening than uncertainty. Our pear trees served to illustrate the point on Saturday. I had checked them just a few days before and the fruit was still rock hard. Of course, that was before a heat wave hit (it has been in the upper 80s and low 90s here) after a relatively fall-like period. The change in weather caused the fruit to ripen incredibly fast. By yesterday (Sunday) we already had some fruit on the ground because it had fallen off, overripe.

The odd thing is that the weather has only affected four of our pear trees. Normally, the pears ripen pretty much at the same time, but that isn’t the case this year. We’ll have two distinct picking periods, which might actually be beneficial given the size of the harvest this year. You can be certain that I’ll be watching the other four pear trees quite closely.

Even with the drop off, the harvest this year is huge. We didn’t pick up any of the windfalls yesterday because they really were quite bad. The trees have yielded 200 pounds of fruit so far and there is more to pick. We stopped picking because we’ve run out of space to put the pears in the house. So, we’ll process this batch and pick some more.

Of course, I’m wondering what has caused the odd ripening and why it has affected only some of the trees. I think the weather is definitely the cause. The variance in temperatures can be attributed to global warming, but I think there must be something more to it than that. I do know now that I’ll need to check the trees every day during this time of the year from now on (normally I check every three or four days until the fruit starts to ripen, at which point, I start checking every day).

There are consequences to the early ripening. In checking the fruit yesterday, I did note that the pears are larger than normal, which is probably the result of those early spring rains. The water content is also considerably higher than normal, which means that we probably won’t be making much pear butter this year (it would take too long to boil the pears down). Even though the pears taste wonderful and are a bit more flavorful than normal, the sugar content is considerably less than normal. The main reason is that the pears ripened before the sugar content could rise. As a result, we might have a hard time making pear jam and using the pears for wine will be harder too. The pears will make amazingly good juice, chunks, and pear sauce. Rebecca also plans to make some more pear mincemeat. Our larder was starting to get a bit low and we had hoped the pears would be suitable this year (they are).

The lower sugar content has had one positive effect. Normally we have to battle hornets during this time of the year. They like to eat holes into the pear and sometimes a piece of fruit will contain a hornet when you go to pick it (making it necessary to look carefully at the fruit). The hornets are definitely fewer this year. On the other hand, we’ve noticed a few more earwigs than normal. Both hornets and earwigs are beneficial at other times of the year because they do keep other parasites in check. The key to avoiding an infestation is to ensure you pick the fruit just before the peak of ripeness (the fruit has a good taste and the sugar content is high, but it’s still a little hard). If you wait until the fruit is completely ripe, hornets and earwigs will almost certainly attack it.

We have been working with fruit for about 17 years now and no two years have been precisely the same. There are general trends in how our fruit will react in any given year, but nothing precise. Flexibility is key in making an orchard work. So, what are you seeing in your orchard this year? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

A Really Wet Spring

It doesn’t seem possible that I was complaining about drought last year, but I did (see Unexpected Drought Consequences for details). Our spring has been incredibly wet with rain coming every other day (or, more often, several days in a row). It has been so wet that even trying to cut the grass has been a chore. I finally resorted to using a hand mower and a weed whacker to do the job—the garden tractor was hopeless, it either lost traction and got stuck or the deck would become filled with grass and refuse to do anything more. At least we’re not flooding (yet).

Our main concern at the moment is that the garden still isn’t planted. Yes, it has gotten quite late and some items wouldn’t have a chance of producing anything at this point, but many other items will still produce something for us. The problem is trying to till the garden to loosen the soil. The other day I took out my spade to see how things were progressing. The soil in one part of the garden simply stuck together as a mud ball. Digging in another part showed water in the bottom of the hole. Obviously, any attempt to use the tiller will be futile until the garden dries out a little.

At least one reader has heard of our predicament (possibly being in the same state himself) and chided me about my comments regarding global warming. I stand by what I have said in the past—global warming is a reality. Global warming doesn’t necessarily mean things will be hot (although, the global average temperature is increasing a small amount each year). What it means is that we’ll see more extremes in weather, such as this year’s really cool and wet spring.

As with anything, I try to find the positives. I reported on one of those positives recently, our woods produced a bumper crop of mushrooms. Those mushrooms sell for $25.00 a pound if you can obtain them directly from someone who picks them. Morels are in high demand because they’re delicious. If you pick mushrooms to help augment your income, this is your year. We simply enjoyed them in some wonderful meat dishes, which is a treat considering we usually make do with the canned variety.

However, for us the biggest plus is that we’re going to be buried in fruit. The apples, cherries, plums, and pears have all produced bountifully this year. The trees are literally packed with fruit. I imagine that I’ll need to trim some of it off to keep the branches from breaking—an incredibly rare event. It has only happened once before in the 18 years we have lived here. So, for us, this year is the year we pack the larder with good fruit to eat, despite the fact that our garden will produce dismally.

Of course, we really do want a garden. At this point, my only option is to go out there and dig it up by hand and then smooth it over with a garden rake. I’ll this task right alongside of mowing the lawn using the weed whacker. We’re talking some heavy duty hours of some incredibly dirty work. Well, someone has to do it. At least I’m getting my exercise, which will help improve my health.

So how is your spring going and what do you expect from your garden this summer? Are your fruit trees literally bursting with fruit as mine are? Let me know what is happening with your orchard and garden at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Unexpected Drought Consequences

I’ve written a number of posts about the effects of global warming from a personal perspective. It does make a difference in how I view the whole issue of global warming. Whether global warming is a matter of cyclic world changes, human interaction, natural sources, or some combination of thereof isn’t the point—the point is that the earth is getting warmer, which is causing changes of various sorts that affect me as a person. Your best way to deal with these changes is to make a list of how they affect you and come up with effective strategies for dealing with them.

This summer saw a drought come to our area. There is more than a little evidence to say that the drought is just another effect of global warming. People focus on droughts during the summer months because crops are affected, grass dies, and the heat becomes oppressive. The television, radio, and newspaper blare pronouncements of impending doom from dawn till dusk each day. However, the winter effects of drought can become even more devastating than those in summer.

Consider the fact that snow acts as an insulating blanket for the earth. It helps retain some of the heat in the deep layers. When there is a lack of snow, frost tends to go further into the ground and cause all sorts of nasty consequences, especially during a heavy freeze. My reason for writing about heavy freezes is that we’re experiencing one here in Wisconsin and I’m concerned about the potential of damage to either my well or septic system. Nothing is quite as exciting as living almost four miles from town and not being able to use any water because your septic system is frozen. Once frozen, you need to call a professional to thaw the system so you can use it again. If your professional is especially busy, you may be waiting for a few days.

The problems of deep frost aren’t limited to the well or septic system. A deeper frost creates more heaving—water freezes and the resulting ice displaces some of the earth underground. The most conspicuous result of heaving is that any pavement on your property buckles and doesn’t last nearly as long as it could. It’s possible to assign an actual dollar amount to the lost longevity of your sidewalks and driveway. The effects can also profoundly affect your house’s foundation.

Heaving also causes myriad other problems for the self-sufficient person. For example, those posts you put in for your grape vines will become misaligned—forcing you to spend time readjusting the cables and possibly damaging the vines. A deep frost can kill tree, vine, and permanent bed plant roots. You’ll also have the pleasure of picking more rocks from the garden come spring because heaving brings them to the surface (despite the perception that they grow there during the winter). I’m also wondering how a deep frost will affect our new chicken coop (despite having put the posts as deeply as we could in the ground, heaving will still have an effect on them).

There is also the direct heating costs to consider. A blanket of snow on your roof acts as additional insulation. When this blanket is removed completely, your house loses more heat. Of course, there is also a problem when there is too much snow on your roof (causing damage from the weight) and the whole issue of ice dams. However, during this time of the year, a nice insulating layer of snow can save heating dollars.

Drought causes serious problems during the winter as well as the summer. No matter where you live, you have to consider the effects of drought on your property and the structures it supports. What sorts of winter drought effects have you see in the past? Do you think the increased number of droughts is due to a natural cycle in the earth’s weather pattern or from global warming (or possibly a combination of both)? Write me about your drought observations at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.