A Little Northern Homesteading Rant

Don’t get me wrong – I am really enjoying the adventure of living in a remote Northern area.  The wildlife, the lakes, the forests…I am so surrounded by beauty that when I go outside I’m not sure what to look at first.  Not a day goes by that it doesn’t take my breath away.

But sometimes, heating with wood in this climate really sucks.

First of all, when your only heat source for the house is a woodstove, much of the cabin remains quite chilly.  It has been so cold here that we’ve been bundled up in hats and scarves even indoors.  My new skill this winter has been learning to crochet – you can see my hat and scarf here – both very welcome in this weather!

The chores, however, insist on being done no matter what the weather.  Even the outside ones.  In fact, the outside chores are even more insistent in the colder weather as the fire gobbles up the wood at a much greedier pace.  Next year, when we add animals to our homestead, that will require even more time outdoors.  Hopefully, I’ll have acclimated by then.

Today’s chores included bringing in some wood.  I bring in about a week’s worth of wood at a time because it burns so much better after it has been inside for a couple of days.

I experienced the coldest weather of my life this past week – NEGATIVE 42 degrees.

People ask me – is that Celcius or Farenheit?

My response:  Does it really matter when it is negative freaking 42?

Luckily, it  warmed up today.  You know that you’re living in the North when you look at -27 and say, “Oh – it’s warming up!  I’d better get the outdoor chores done while I can enjoy the weather!”  Comparatively subtropical!

The weather station showed this “balmy” temperature.

 

I piled on the layers and went outside.  After I removed a couple of feet of snow from the woodpile against the house, I removed the top tarp and then peeled back the second tarp to get to the nice dry wood.  This, of course, was interrupted by insistent requests from the dog to throw her rather disreputable looking frisbee.

The real trick to things like this, I’ve discovered, is treating it like a workout.  This would only be effective, of course, if you like working out.  I  cranked up some loud obnoxious rock – I broke out my old weight room playlist to motivate me to grit my teeth and get ‘er done. I set the timer for 30 minutes and started lugging wood.

This is one of those chores that can be deceptively difficult.  First, at least in my case, you’re walking across ice – no matter how much salt you put on it, it’s still ice underneath the grit.  Next, you’re trying to get hold of the wood while wearing thick gloves to protect your hands from the painful cold – it’s very easy to disrupt the pile and send it crashing down on your foot.  Then, once inside, your linoleum becomes slippery from your wet boots.  I’ve wiped out more than once doing this  (maybe I’m just less coordinated than other folks).  It’s very important, especially when getting wood from the lower parts of the pile, to take care to lift with your legs and not your back.

If you hurt your back, guess what?  You STILL have to bring in the wood next week – only with an injury.  Which would suck even more than bringing in wood when it’s negative 27 degrees.

Anyway, I digress – the timer went off and a week’s supply of wood was neatly stacked against the wall.  I gave the walkway a quick mop to get rid of all the slush I’d tracked in, enjoying how warm I felt after lugging wood for the past half hour.

Despite the whining and muttering, I’m very grateful to have a source of heat that doesn’t depend on the grid. I remember occasions in the city when our furnace or power went down (always on the coldest day of the year, of course).  I remember the feeling of vulnerability, shivering in our fancy modern house.  While I sometimes reminisce about the luxury of a thermostat, I wouldn’t trade the security of our life in the boonies for our life back in the city – not even for heat on demand.

 

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Daisy Luther is a freelance writer and editor.  Her website, The Organic Prepper, offers information on healthy prepping, including premium nutritional choices, general wellness and non-tech solutions. You can follow Daisy on Facebook and Twitter, and you can email her at daisy@theorganicprepper.ca

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25 Comments  to  A Little Northern Homesteading Rant

  1. HalfKin says:

    For next winter, chink and weather strip every crack and crevice you can. I have used an old cotton mattress for chinking logs in an old home I lived in.
    Also if you don’t already have one, consider a reflective board behind your stove to ‘push’ the heat back into the room. Even Aluminum foil will work.
    And consider the type of stove you have.
    It may be time to upgrade to a more energy efficient model. We had a Grand Daddy Fichser stove with fire bricks in side that weighed 500 lbs empty. I could bank a fire to hold coals for at least 9-10 hours. My record one time was 12, (but it was a little bitty coal left.)
    One Christmas eve I was pounding a block of wood in with my foot, (the stove had two levels) and I got it stuck, couldn’t get it in or out. To make things worse I actually kicked two of the legs off of their risers. So I had a 500 #, red hot stove, stuck with the door open and disconnected from its stove pipe in the back that had flames shooting up between stove and pipe. No smoke though! Fortunately, We had other families living on the mountain that year so we woke up the men and four men two poles and a bit of lifting we got it back on its blocks, the wood shoved in and the door closed and the pipe reconnected. FUN TIMES! I miss it.

    • Daisy says:

      Half-Kin~

      We rent so I can’t upgrade the woodstove. I know that things would be much warmer if we had a more efficient stove. I do have a glossy black backing behind the stove that I purchased at the hardware store – it’s designed to be used with a wood stove. We also collected large stones when the weather was nice and they absorb a lot of heat and reflect it back into the room.

      You’re absolutely right about the weather-proofing! I’m going to be doing a lot of work this summer to get this house more weather-tight.

      I had to laugh at your story about the wood stove – thankfully it ended well! I’m constantly trying to jam too much wood in there. :)

      Daisy

      • Becky Maxwell says:

        Daisy, where abouts are you located that you are able to rent a homestead cabin? It looks like something my family is looking to do, we are in Ohio but would love to be in WV mountains homesteading.

        • Daisy says:

          Becky, I’m in Canada about 4 and a half hours north of Toronto. :)

          The thing to keep in mind is that any location can be turned into a homestead. You just have to look for a place that meets your requirements. Here, I’m near a lake (water supply and fish), a forest (abundant game and wild fruits) and have a field. Other important concerns are employment. I’m self-employed, so I can work any place with an internet connection. However, if you need to find a job in your new location, it’s a little more difficult to relocate.

          I’d recommend you start frequently searching classified ads in your desired area – when something shows up, be prepared to jump on it right away because places like that don’t usually last.

          Be organized in your search. I made a list of things that were “must-haves” and things that were “optional”. When I found this location, I had to compromise slightly – I can’t have livestock here at this time. (I’m working on persuading the owner to let me try chickens in the spring.) But the price was right and it had all the other things I was looking for, so with the abundance of fresh fish available year round, I decided to go for it.

          Best of luck!

          Daisy

  2. canadagal says:

    Daisy your house is so cute & what a beautiful setting. The house reminds me of the house we built when we were 1st married but our windows were just plastic stapled onto a home made frame. One night when it was close to minus 50 my husband stayed up all night keeping the sawdust burner going. Every time he went past the window to get another pail of sawdust a blast of warm air hit him from the plastic. Not well insulated eh!!!

    When we came out of the north this time I said there was 2 things I wanted. A wood heater & a generator. When there are long distances between towns up north sometime it takes a while to get the power back on. Even in the southern prairies farms don’t get their power back on as soon as the cities. This am it was -31.3. We usually get up once or twice in the night to add wood & the propane only cuts in if were sleep through. Wood heat is so warm & cosy that I don’t know what we will do when we are too old to cut our own wood. Now we keep 3 years in the woodshed so that will be a cushion.

    My husband also took a nose cart & added a front onto it with hinges at the bottom & a hook at the top to enclose a good load of wood. This way 1 trip instead of many armloads. He can navigate the stairs to the basement quite nicely with this cart.

    Daisy I also remember the slippery lino when we had pile of wood by a different woodstove. Care sure had to be taken.

    I really admire what you are doing with this blog and living the life you are talking about. Give yourself a big pat on the back!!!!

    • Daisy says:

      Thank you, Canadagal! :)

      We lose power somewhat frequently as well. It’s so nice to have the woodstove in times like that – ours has a nice big flat top and we are able to cook on it. We are comparatively nice and cozy with a hot meal and a cup of steaming tea whereas before we shivered in the dark and ate cold beans out of a can.

      I didn’t cut my own wood this year – I bought it already split because we arrived too late in the season to figure it all out in time. Next year, it’s in the plan to learn that skill!

      I sometimes get up once in the night to add wood to the fire but often I just start the fire up again in the morning. (Lazy Daisy!)

  3. Kristina says:

    Where is a “remote northern region”? My husband and I have been discussing possibly moving to such a location as some time in the future but I am still unsure about where you can homestead.

    • Daisy says:

      Hi, Kristina. For privacy reasons I can’t give out specifics. We are about 4 and a half hours north of Toronto, Ontario. Zone 3 for gardening, so the growing season is a bit short, but it can be extended with cold frames, etc. We moved in the fall so I can’t speak with any authority on growing food here. However, I made friends with some local farmers and they do quite well – the land is very fertile.

  4. Canada Canuk says:

    Daisy, I know how you feel about bringing in the wood….that didn’t used to be my job, but now it is! Am fortunate I was able to put my name on a “list” about a year and a half ago at a “pallet” company nearby (It took a long time to arrive, as everyone wants their wood) The wood is the excess from the pallets they manufacture, and is cut in nice lengths with NO bark. I was able to purchase 5 cords(that was a BIG truckload…..now have my name back on the list as it will take another year or so for delivery.

  5. Deborah says:

    We’ve been pretty cold here in central Minnesota, but not even close to 40 below! Currently we heat with propane but keep the thermostat low to conserve. When the arctic cold settled in we tried out a portable kerosene heater that we bought last year, to take the chill out of the house. Surprisingly, it heated the whole house and it was a toasty 74 degrees, so the furnace never ran while the heater was on, only overnight while the heater was off. I highly recommend it as a supplement to your wood heat when it gets super cold. Winter is miserable when there is no where to be warm.

    • Daisy says:

      What a great idea! I’ll look into that! A couple of times I’ve broken down and used an electric space heater but they are pricey to run. I will check out a kerosene heater on my next run into town. :)

      Thanks!

      Daisy

  6. Lori says:

    Hi Daisy,
    I’m new here,but I’ve been there (the -47 and wow,it’s warming up….only -30!!) here in northern MT that used to be the norm,I remember bringing the little propane tank into the kitchen so it didn’t freeze up & we’d have light. Sleeping with our potatoes so they didn’t freeze at night ect! Each of the kids had a hugh rock we heated all day,wrapped them in rags at night and hauled it off to bed with them.
    I know you said you can’t change the wood stove,but for those who can & need a really good woodstove that works better than any one we’ve ever owned (and we’ve owned several)I want you to look up The Ugly Stove,they are UGLY but they work so good,even at -35 our house is warm (we have a huge house with an upstairs) If you’re willing to “compromise” looks & some what your hearing (remember going into a service station when we were kids,and the huge blowers? that’s what the fan on the ugly stove sounds like!) They’re expensive,and I’ll bet they cost a bundle to ship,but they are so worth it!!!! Stay warm,Daisy!!! Lori

  7. woman of the woods says:

    Cold with a woodstove? How odd. We heat an older home with an older elmira stove from the early 90′s. A full load, even at -40, means open some windows. I have so much heat, and use very little wood. A few cords a season of jack pine and poplar.
    Is your wood seasoned? We have had some odd yukky trees over the years, even after they were dry, they did not give good heat. I hate to think of you being cold.
    I do the weekly wood thing too. We got a cart to wheel in front of the door, load it up, and wheel it back over to the stove. Keeps the mess down and easy to clean around.

    • Daisy says:

      Hi! Well, I think most of it is that the cabin is not very well insulated – most of the windows are single pane, also. Great idea about the cart! I will look into that. :)

      Daisy

  8. Sam says:

    We’ve heated with wood for 30+years. I’ve found a small elctric fan, set on low (uses about 40 watts) pointed at the stove and up a bit, left on 24/7, really moves enough air to help keep the corner rooms warmer. Just wait til you have to feed cows at 20 below, and chop ice–it’ll keep you young, or something. Upgrade to better whiskey in the winter. Good luck, springs coming. Sam

    • beth says:

      my folks have this handy electricity free fan they got through northern tool that sits on your store, moves by the exchange of hot and cold air, pretty cool, and off grid.

  9. Sancho says:

    Point 1: You are right – at minus 42, it doesn’t really matter. Literally. If you look at the graph of Celsius vs Fahrenheit, you can see that the lines cross at 40 degrees below zero. The difference at 42 below can only matter to a weather buff.

    Point 2: Salt on top of ice produces water on top of ice, if the temperature is above minus 17 degrees, I think. The salt is not supposed to be for traction, it is supposed to melt through to the bottom of the ice, and melt a small puddle that separates the ice from the pavement. Then you can chip it clear – a popular sport hereabouts. I suggest that gravel is cheaper, and stays on top of the ice.

    Firewood is not all the same. Locust burns all night, because it is one of the most dense woods, in terms of pounds per cubic foot. Poplar burns like a matchstick – quick and done. That’s why the Woman-Of-The-Woods home is so hot – you need good hardwood for a slow fire. (here’s a firewood joke: Do you know what you have left when you burn Ash trees? Just ash. Get all the ash you can.) Pay a bit extra for firewood, and you will get more heat with fewer trips to the woodpile. (Subject to local availability.)

    • Daisy says:

      Excellent suggestions, Sancho! Here, I can easily acquire birch, pine, beech and maple. Ash is a little harder to locate but I’ll see what I can find.

      I often use ashes from the fireplace on the ice – helps a lot with traction. There’s no pavement underneath – it’s all dirt out here. :) Well, somewhere down there is dirt – been a while since we’ve seen it!

      Daisy

  10. NM Patriot says:

    Quit whining. Try living at close to 8K feet in elevation and only having a wood stove for heat.

    “Toughen up!” your ancestors would be shouting at you!

    That is all.

  11. Joyce says:

    I read something recently about putting bubble wrap inside your windows to help insulate them. Might give it a try if you have any.

  12. kelly says:

    Thanks for the reminder of the freedom my wood burning pain gets me and the laugh. Stay warm and healthy.

  13. CornFreeGirl says:

    I also have heard from a client about using bubble wrap on the windows to insulate. You simply use a light spray of water then put the bubble wrap flat side to the window. You can’t see out the window, but it is easy to take it off and reapply from what I have heard.

  14. beth says:

    -42!and i thought it was bad going from -22 to -9 thinking wow it’s warmed up that same day!
    animals brings a whole new dynamic for sure (getting eggs on days like that they seem to freeze and crack upon laying!)
    well, stay warm, and remember spring is just around the corner!

  15. John Tyson says:

    I live in a remote region. I have to produce my own power. The wind howls at 20 to 45 mph most of the time. I use a tankless water heater to heat the floor and a couple pellet stoves to help. It gets down to -15 in the winter and 115 in the summer and the wind still blows even on nice clear days. Oh yes, my remote region only has 2 to 3 people per square mile and that is in north central Kansas. Nearest gas station is 15 miles, nearest groceries are 18 miles. Nearest shopping is 40 miles. I guess it proves you can find remote places about every where out west. Stay warm everyone.

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