Fall eases in like a good friend who can’t stay away.
Steady progress continues on our little homestead. Pete built, and has nearly filled, a 10’X10’ firewood storage shed for us. This is something we went without last winter and will very much appreciate this coming one. Personally, I have not tried lighting a fire in the wood stove using wood which is covered in snow and ice, but Pete has and he uses all sorts of colorful language to describe the process. Ideally, we would have had a whole year supply of wood split and put away this spring or summer so it could all dry out and “cure” before using it. Not the case this year, but we’re leaps and bounds ahead of last year where Pete was cutting and splitting wood all winter as we needed it. It is a luxury to have things organized and planned for in advance, as it eases the day-to-day work and stress load. Running out of anything critical in the middle of a cold, dark Alaskan winter quickly changes whatever may have initially been planned for that day. However, dealing with those situations in the moment leaves unforgettable memories which you tend to avoid repeating at all costs in the future. We learned quite a lot last winter, which should make this winter a bit more pleasant.
For the wood shed, Pete dug four big holes in which he put a large stone to support each corner post. He drilled a hole into each stone so a piece of metal rod could join to the post and prevent it from sliding off. For the frame, he used round spruce poles and cut the joinery using the same jigs he made when he built the storage loft. Here though, he did not cut mortises and tenons, but just cut flat faces to join together with a large screw. Not having to chisel out the many mortise pockets sped up the building process dramatically, making peeling the logs the most tedious part. After all the poles were selected and peeled, he was able to cut and assemble the frame in just a couple of days, rather than the many weeks it took to build the loft in the garage. The biggest drawback to this design without the mortise and tenon joinery is the completed structure is just not as rigid. That’s not to say it’s inadequate – we are more than confident it will last for many years and will easily hold huge snow loads. Looking around, we can see plenty of examples of structures built with far less attention to detail which have survived for decades. The difference is noticeable when Pete climbs on the roof and jumps around or rocks it side to side. There is a little bit of sway in this structure held together with a screw at each joint. The storage loft, however, with the mortise and tenon joinery is rock solid with no movement at all, no matter what is going on up top. The lesson here is to find a balance between quality and efficiency. Pete could have spent another month or so cutting mortise and tenon joinery just so we could confidently invite the entire neighborhood to climb atop the wood shed and dance around all at once. But as long as we don’t send out that invitation, this shed may very well out live us!
Chores lately have centered around splitting firewood and just getting the yard and equipment prepared for snowfall. Making sure all the tools are out of the garden, draining hoses, getting materials and equipment covered, moved inside, or otherwise prepared to be buried in ice for a few months. As we scurry around checking off all the items on the list of things to do which can only be accomplished with unfrozen ground, we never forget to pause and soak in the autumn aura. The sea of yellow, orange, and red leaves gives the forest a golden glow. However, high winds during the last couple days of the month have stripped the trees of most of this glow. These bare, woody branches will form the majority of our scenery until the blossoms return in late spring.
Although we declared this year a “building year” for our garden, we were still able to enjoy a small harvest – a taste of things to come! We nibbled on radishes and peas throughout the summer, which were delicious, and we were recently pleasantly surprised when we dug up our potato experiment. Starting with just 4 or 5 old potatoes which were headed for spoil in a dark corner of a neighbor’s pantry, we dug up well over 20 lbs of potatoes! Having never grown potatoes before, starting with less-than desirable seed stock, and doing very little to prepare the soil, this amazing bounty feels like getting something for nothing. It has us wondering “what’s the catch?” Assuming it will always be this easy, we will make potatoes a garden staple for years to come. We also successfully grew carrots, romaine lettuce, and green beans, though in small quantities as we just wanted to test the varieties.
We also made sure to harvest some of the wild bounty from around the property. High bush cranberries and lingon berries are best after a frost, so we waited a few days after getting some cool nights to gather what we could find on our couple of acres. We got about a quart each of cranberries and lingon berries, which we froze next to the blueberries we gathered in August. So far, we’ve added the berries to breads and the occasional cocktail, but we’re saving many of them to use in our upcoming holiday meals!
“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” That phrase is a way of life for some around here. So when Pete heard that someone needed to get rid of a bunch of their old freezer burned salmon, he saw an opportunity to make a tasty treat for our doggies. He got nearly 60lbs of pink salmon fillets! These fish had been in the freezer for 7 or 8 years, so they wouldn’t be too tasty to you or I, but the dogs are more than happy to have them. We also decided to give our potato harvest to the dogs as well. Pete filled a big kettle with chopped fish and potatoes, along with some moose heart, tongue, and trimmings and boiled it over a fire for a couple of hours to make a hearty soup. After letting it cool, he ladled it into bags to freeze. We’ll take one of these bags out to thaw before going to bed at night and split it between the two dogs for their breakfast in the morning. This doesn’t completely replace their store-bought dog food, but they sure do enjoy it more! Next year, we’ll grow more potatoes for them and also some greens like broccoli and peas or beans.
Looking ahead into October, we plan to squeeze in a hike, make lots of bread, enjoy the warmth of the wood stove, continue with winter prep, and plug away at various outdoor projects until the ground freezes for the winter. I’ve even started humming Christmas tunes while woodworking some holiday gifts! Even though the daylight hours get shorter and shorter, I love this time of year!
Hello, I am Melissa, owner of Wild North Design. Recently, my husband and I decided to pick up and move to Alaska. This dream has been a couple years in the making and we are enjoying the journey so far. We love to learn and make all kinds of things. From wood craft, to painting, to vehicles, landscaping, building, exploring...we love it all! We are finding out that Alaska is a great fit for our restless minds and bodies! Excited for what the future holds for our expanding family!
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