Winter Activities on Our Homestead

We had a recent inquiry about our woodlot work as well as our winter activities on our homestead so here it goes.

Woodlot Thinning

Woodlot Thinning

With gardens put to bed, preserved bounty socked away in the root cellar, pantry and freezers, life on the homestead in winter takes on a slower pace. Nevertheless, there are numerous winter activities on the homestead that occupy our time. These include but are not limited to: indulging in various hobbies, spending more time cooking and baking, planning the coming season’s garden as well as reflecting on last season and what we want to do different, perusing seed catalogs while dreaming of spring and working in the woods. Lastly let’s not forget about relaxing. Let’s explore each of these winter activities on our homestead in more detail.

Wood Lot Work

Winter is the perfect time for working in the woods. Since the gardens are dormant, we have time to spend in the woods. Plus we don’t have to contend with any biting insects such as blackflies, deer or moose flies.

Our sole heat source is wood. Our sole fuel for cooking/baking and heating our hot water is wood. So we take firewood procurement pretty seriously. We use the bulk of the firewood during the winter heating season with the rest used during the summer to cook, bake, heat our hot water and preserve our food by canning and blanching for the freezer.

Not only do we cut for the following year’s heating season, but we try to stockpile wood for years ahead. Since we are so reliant on firewood it seems prudent to make sure we are set for the long term. This gives us peace of mind so that if Ron gets hurt or is unable to cut firewood, we have enough to get by for several years.

We’ve never understood the mentality of “just in time” firewood, wood that people are getting in as the first snow flies. Firewood needs to season to burn safely. This takes time. There’s nothing worse than trying to get wet, unseasoned wood to burn. But more importantly, burning unseasoned wood dramatically increases the chance of a chimney fire which just isn’t worth it in our book. Since the beginning of time, well maybe not that long, but certainly for the past 43 years, it is natural for us to have plenty of firewood in inventory.

Most of our property is forested with stands of various age categories ranging from mature trees to areas of young growth where the trees are only 7’ to 8’ tall and so numerous it’s impossible to walk through the stand. These thick jungles are the areas Ron thins with the clearing saw.

Brush Collecting

A forest is like a garden in that it needs to be thinned with the tool of choice being a clearing saw. Any gardener knows you need to thin plantings of carrots or beets if you hope to get a good harvest of usable roots. Otherwise you end up with a pile of scrawny, misshapen roots that are virtually useless. The same is true for a forest. Undesirable trees, those that are damaged, misshapen, not vigorous or healthy are thinned out to allow the desirable trees to thrive. Thinning with the clearing saw eliminates the competition for nutrients, water and sunlight.

Thinning also creates lots of brush that most people leave on the ground to decay but which we collect to chip up into mulch for use in our gardens. In some cases the thinned trees are so small they’re not suitable for firewood in which case the whole thing will be chipped up. If the thinned trees are big enough, Ron will limb them then cut them up into firewood for kindling. The tops and limbs of the saplings are then run through our chipper.

Firewood Collection

Regarding firewood, some wood comes from the thinning process as stated above but most comes from dead or dying trees that we salvage. We’re also never at a loss for healthy trees that have been blown over or snapped off by high winds. Salvaging large blown over trees easily keeps us supplied with wood.

Here’s a quick video showing Ron salvaging some blown over trees from the aftermath of hurricane Fiona. Note the safety gear: helmet with ear and eye protection, kevlar safety chaps and steel toed logging boots that are orange so they visibly stand out decreasing the chances of cutting a foot with the saw.

Also note his use of the chain brake, the black handle that is just forward of the hand grip. He engages this safety feature every time he sits the saw down and disengages it when ready to continue.

The hand tongs you see him using are made especially for logging. We’ve had them over 30 years and they are worth their weight in gold. As you will see they act as an arm extension allowing him to reach further but most importantly, in this video you see how they allow him to grasp the tree and pull it toward him. Doing this with bare hands would be almost impossible. Towards the end of the video you will also see how much easier it is to grasp and pick up each cut piece using the tongs. Without them he would have to bend all the way down to ground level to pick up each piece with his hands which would be harder on the back and take considerably more time. Efficiency is the name of the game.

Methods of Collection

At present, we have two means of hauling brush or firewood from the woods to the house site. One is the dump body on the ATV and the other is a utility trailer that we hitch to the ATV. If we’re using the utility trailer for firewood, trees can be left tree length, semi-tree length or cut to whatever length is manageable for manually hauling them out of the woods and on to the trailer.

Once the trailer is full, it is driven to the house site where we buck the trees up into stove length pieces. Large diameter pieces are split before being stacked in the woodshed. Once cut to length, smaller diameter pieces that don’t need splitting are stacked in the woodshed.

It is so satisfying to see piles of cut firewood knowing we are utilizing wood that would be wasted while at the same time making the forest a better stand.

If we’re using the dump body of the ATV, pieces must be cut to stove length before loading. As a guesstimate, we figure the dump body holds about 1/8 of a cord of wood. This past November we cut 30 dump body loads of wood. Believe it or not, we didn’t make a dent in the blown over trees needing retrieval.

If we’re collecting brush instead of firewood, we use the utility trailer and pile it as high as we can with limbs, treetops, or tiny full length trees, strap the pile down so nothing falls off and drive the ATV in to the house site where we’ll eventually chip up the materials with our chipper.

Using the ATV with attached utility trailer works well so long as anything we need to collect is bordering our driveway. When we need to venture off into the woods, this assembly won’t work. Our terrain is much too rough for the ATV. We know this for a fact as we’ve tried to use it as if it were a skidder. Not a good idea.

For accessing materials deep in the forest, we use a snowmobile with an attached tote sled/sleigh to collect load after load of firewood and brush. Of course this means we must wait until it snows before we can use the snowmobile.

Orchard Pruning

While technically not woodlot work, pruning all our orchard plants is also a good winter activity on the homestead. The apple, pear and plum trees, currants, grapes, blueberries etc. are dormant at this time of the year which is when pruning should take place. Pruning is tedious time consuming work but we are rewarded with vigorous growth and lots of fruits which provide the bulk of our yearly fruit supply.

Leisure Activities

Our leisure pursuits are many. For Ron, he enjoys wood working the old fashioned way with hand tools and has crafted many beautiful items. For me, I enjoy many kinds of needle work from spinning yarn with my spinning wheel ,to sewing, quilting, knitting and tinkering with weaving. I also have more time to spend in the kitchen cooking and baking which is nice since all our meals are prepared from scratch. Ron especially enjoys the homemade breads, rolls, soft pretzels and English Muffins piping hot from the wood stove oven. Reading is also a pleasurable pass time.

Johanna's Quilt

Johanna’s Quilt

Chip Carving

Chip Carving

We find these leisure pursuits a welcome change of pace from the food production and food preserving of the summer months. The down time means come spring we are rested and rejuvenated so we are able to hit it hard once the weather breaks.

But this doesn’t mean we become couch potatoes. We both go to our local gym a couple times a week, Ron trains as a Master’s track sprinter and I walk a couple of miles most days and of course all the woods work contributes to our exercise regime as well.

Winter activities on the homestead are many. We are never bored or at a loss for something to do, but we have time to relax thanks to the shorter days of winter. The opportunity for outside work ceases around 4:30PM as darkness is upon us and we are forced inside. Which at this time of year is fine by us.

Until next time, keep the dream alive! We wish you a great day!

Ron and Johanna

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2 Responses to Winter Activities on Our Homestead

  1. Carolyn Perkons says:

    So very, very interesting. You do so much good for our forests and I ove your quilt Johanna!!! I love reading your posts.

    • Ron & Johanna Melchiore says:

      Hello Carolyn. I’ll pass your quilt comment on to Johanna. We are grateful for people like yourself who take time to read and enjoy our posts. Thanks! Stay well!

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