Winter Prep On An Alaskan Homestead

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Winter Prep On An Alaskan Homestead

Winter is nearly here in our little slice of Alaska. Trees are barren and we’ve already had our first frost. Seeing as winter is our longest and harshest season, we use the rest of the year to prepare for it. So what does preparing for winter on an Alaskan homestead entail?

Firstly, we heat with wood.

This means a lot of cutting trees, hauling, splitting and stacking for drying. Last year we stacked wood under a tarp. This year we built a wood shed to store it in. We’ve also upgraded from an axe to a hydrolic log splitter. It makes this chore go much faster! We also collect birch bark because it makes fantastic fire starter.

Our second biggest concern for this winter was keeping our water system from freezing.

We put the system in this summer so this winter will be the big test for it. We built a little mini “cabin”, complete with its own wood stove, around our water reservoir. This should keep the reservoir and pipes around it from freezing. On super cold days we’ll keep a fire going in there.

 

Speaking of fires, we also replaced to wood stove in our cabin for a bigger one.

Our old stove was a bit undersized, so replacing it means we won’t need to get up at night to build fires any more. Our cabin should be a more steady temperarure this winter. We’re also finishing the flooring in the loft, so more of the heat stays on the lower floor.

We also have more animals to consider this year.

Last year we kept our two dogs inside most of the time for winter, but this year we have FOUR dogs! So building dog houses for everyone and stuffing them with straw is a must. We also have a smaller chicken coop for the chickens. The old coop is big and airy. Great for summer, but not so great for winter. A smaller coop will help keep the birds warm with body heat, especially since we don’t suppliments heat in the winter. We’ll also be building a pig shed and filling that with straw for our pigs.

Another part of winter prep is putting up food.

I canned a bunch of salmon this year that Kyle caught fishing with our friends. Our first goal for next year is to purchase our own permit and fish all next summer. Unfortunately our garden was a bust except for potatoes, so those need to dug and dried for storage. Next year we will use what we’ve learned and have a much better garden.

This will be our second winter on our Alaskan homestead, and we’re ready for it!

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Three Surprising Places To Find Cheap Homestead Goods

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Homesteading is not cheap. From animal feed to fencing to the animals themselves, there are quite a few things a beginning homestead will need. When we first started out we made the mistake of purchasing everything from a big box store. We spend thousands of dollars before we realized we could buy things way cheaper, we just needed to know where to go.

Second Hand Stores

One thing we’ve figured out is that second hand stores are often full of tools. Shovels, picks, drills, chainsaws. You name it, a second store probably has it. I’ve even seen a few bigger ticket items at the second hand stores around here, like tractors. Second hand stores are also great places to purchase homestead goods because you can usually haggle the price.

Peoples Yards

If there is something in the neighbors yard they don’t use that you could, why not ask to buy it? While this may seem somewhat odd, anyone who’s seen the show Pickers knows that its worth it to ask. We’ve gotten old trampolines, building materials and even a saw mill this way. It’s also possible to get plant cuttings or seeds and bulbs like this. Even if the person says no, you didn’t loose anything by asking. Just make sure to have cash in hand for an offer!

 

Facebook

It seems like Facebook is taking over the world (or at least the internet) these days. We’ve purchased second hand cars, goats and chickens this way. Facebook is also a great way to get information. Our peninsula has Facebook groups just for animal and garden advice. Take a look around, maybe there is a group in your area that will be useful. I also find Facebook especially helpful when I have something in mind that I need. It’s easy for responders to tag friends who might know something in the comments. Even if the person reading my question doesn’t have what I need, they usually know someone who knows someone, and I end up getting the things I need.

I’m sure there are a lot of other great places to find cheap homestead items, but these are the main three that we use here. Where do you find your homestead deals?

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Canning Salmon

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Canning Salmon SledDogSlow.com

Yesterday I got the chance to try canning salmon for the first time. Our friends Mike and Sue had a big haul and asked if we were available to help process. They ended up will 66 fish in their net. That is a whole lot of salmon!

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While Mike pulled fish in, Kyle and another friend Chase gutted them all.

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What a beautiful cooler full of fish!

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While the guys worked, Sue showed me how to can a bunch of salmon for Kyle and I. Luckily Sue had a pressure canner and lots of jars for me to use! We cut the fish into large chunks and placed them skin side out in pint jars. After doing lots of research and talking to people, I decided not to add water or salt to the jars. Salmon is an oily enough fish that it would secrete those oils to fill the jar while canning. We did add Sriracha Ketchup to some of the jars as an experiment. I thought the flavor would be interesting, and ketchup is supposed to help the salmon color better.

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Some of the salmon were so big they nearly didn’t fit in the jars!

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We were able to fit 14 pints in the pressure canner, and canned them at 10 psi for 110 minutes.

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The salmon turned out beautifully, and we had a great time spending the day with our friends!

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Making Fireweed Jelly

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So the other day I decided to try and make some fireweed jelly since we have so much of it around here. I went on a little walk with the dogs and collected some fireweed blossoms, as well as watermelon berries and blueberries I came across.

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I ended up with about 4 cups of blossoms for my jelly. Rather than boiling them in water and straining it, I used cheese cloth to make a “tea bag” for the blossoms in about 3 cups of water. I removed them from the boiling water when it was a nice violet color. Then I added lemon juice for the acidity, and cinnamon and honey to taste. I also just estimated for how much pectin I would need, my apologies there isn’t much of a recipe to follow!

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It turned out rather pretty! 4 cups of blossoms only made two 6 oz jars though, so I’ll definitely need to go collect some more. 4 oz jars would probably be better next time as well, that way I can give it out as gifts. Kyle described the flavor as “intense”, I think it’s sort of spicy. I plan on sending some to my mom to see what she thinks of it.

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Hopefully next year when we are more set up (and have things like measuring spoons) I’ll try this recipe again with actual measurements. Next year I’ll also be better prepared for canning the foods we forage, and I’ll be more confidant about local flora and what is usable. I’m so excited to get to can more of the wild foods around here!

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Living Without A Fridge

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One of the biggest changes in moving out here has been living without a fridge. They just suck up way to much power, not to mention I wouldn’t even know where to begin in getting it out here until winter!

So how have we been living without a fridge? We’ve done a lot of research and spoken to other cabin owners out here to figure out what to do with food that spoils quickly. It turns out things like mayonnaise have enough preservatives in them that they don’t actually need refrigerated after opening. It seems really counter intuitive to leave mayo out, but so far we’ve had no issues with it. Jam and jelly are another big one that we get out here often. We usually go on PB&J binges when we receive homemade jam in care packages, otherwise it would go bad just a few days after opening. Store bought jam has never gone bad so far, even after being open for a week. A lot of what we buy is stuff that doesn’t need refrigerated. Dehydrated foods and fruit, and canned goods. We were a little late moving to have a garden this year so we are really missing fresh fruits and vegetables. I have a water bath canner that I’ve canned blueberries with here, hopefully next year we’ll have lots of garden produce to can.

Meat has definitely been the most important issue out here. We usually purchase small amounts, just a pound or two, and cook it as soon as we get home. Then we put it in Tupperware and stick it under the house. Keeping food under the house keeps it surprisingly well. Especially if it’s dug down a few inches into the ground. It seems to keep roughly the same temperature as a fridge that way, and we’ve kept meat up to three days in this manner.

This has all worked great until friends of ours gifted us a large amount of salmon. I don’t have a pressure canner (and boy are they expensive) so we couldn’t can the salmon. Smoking salmon is not something we’ve perfected yet so we needed another way to save the salmon for the winter. I wasn’t sure what other options there were to preserve the fish without a fridge or freezer. Our friends that gave us the salmon suggested we salt it. I read everything I could get on salting fish, which wasn’t much oddly enough. I also spoke to my grandpa and asked his advise on it. We did end up salting the fish so I thought I’d share the process we finally decided on.

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First Kyle cleaned all the fish. Then we put some salt on them and stuck them in 5 gallon buckets over night. We did end up using table salt because that’s what was easily available. Kosher salt or sea salt are recommended because they have more edges and soak up more water. The main concern for table salt is that it usually has iodine in it. Iodine can cause darker meat and an off flavor in the fish. Luckily we found 25 lb sacks locally with no iodine in it.

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The next morning I pulled the fish out, salted them again and hung them to drip dry. I wanted to try and get as much moisture out of them before I stacked them in salt again. Just leaving them overnight in salt left an inch and a half of salt brine in the bottom of the buckets.

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After air drying for a day we took them down and salted them again. Then we loaded them into 5 gallon buckets and filled all the gaps with salt. I plan on checking on them throughout the next 10 days and pouring out any brine that accumulates. I’ll also add more salt as needed. After 10 or so days we’ll check and see how dry they are, we may need to leave them longer or air dry them again.

In order to use them we’ll need to reconstitute the salmon by soaking it in water. The water will need to be changed several times in order to remove all of the salt. We can also do pork and beef in the same way if we were so inclined.

I’m actually looking forward to winter here so we can have things like real milk around. Kyle has been working on our addition (a post for another day), and he’s included a trap door under the floor to keep a cooler dug into the ground. We’ll be able to keep ice around longer and have more perishable foods then!

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