It may now be summer but it’s time to think ahead to those cold weather months. It has been said that in Maine there are only two seasons: winter, and getting ready for winter. Winter is beautiful in Maine with the white snow, blue sky, and evergreens. Winter is also dreaded by most people but a little preparation can go a long way in making it easier. It’s also a great time to get outside and enjoy the crisp, clean air (as snot freezes to the side of your face). It is soooo tempting to just forget about winter and head out on the lake in a kayak or just go play. Time flies by so quickly, especially in the warmer months. All work and no play equals no fun so a balance of time is needed. It’s important to find times to share with family and friends, no matter the season of the year.
As soon as the ground is bare and mud season is over, mid-May, time to get the firewood delivered. It is said that wood heats you three times when you cut it when you stack it, and when you burn it. We are not physically able to go out and cut down trees and then re-cut them into smaller pieces. We leave that for the young people. We have been purchasing our wood from the same family for years, usually 2-3 cords a year. We always have several years’ worth of wood under cover and ready to go. The wood is dumped into a large pile of 18-inch pieces. It takes up a good amount of space. Now the pile needs to be stacked on pallets to dry during those nice, hot summer days. We lay out pallets and start stacking, 2 pieces facing one direction, then the next 2 pieces in the opposite direction, until we have a nice stack about 5 feet high. This whole process is repeated over and over again until the big wood pile is now a bunch of nice, even stacks on pallets.
As my husband and I are middle-aged, we have to do this stacking in stages. Early in the morning is best as the mosquitoes aren’t flying until the magic temperature is reached then it’s unbearable. It seems like for every piece of wood we stack, 2 more pieces take its place on the ground. It’s important that your stacks are stable and this is done by trying to match the size of the pieces you are stacking. A great sigh of relief is in order when this task is complete. After 2-to-3 months of drying and cracks on both ends of the wood, it’s now time to re-stack the wood in the garage. For whatever reason, that task seems to go faster.
We once discovered a very large hornet nest in the middle of the stacked piles and that made it very challenging to put away. One particular hornet landed on my eyebrow and repeatedly stung me and I was home alone. I am not allergic to stings but my eye was swelling rapidly. I ate a handful of Benadryl (this should be in everyone’s medicine cabinet) and off to the ER I went. The main road was being paved and of course, my side of the road was stopped for the work crew. I got out of my truck with an ice pack on my head and explained to the road crew I was having a possible medical emergency and they cleared the path. More Benadryl and steroids took care of the problem and I was back to stacking the next day but much more cautious. We were unable to actually see the nest but the little nasties made themselves known. We had to work in the early morning and moved all we could but left the nest area alone. A very bad thunder and windstorm knocked down the last few piles and broke open the nest. It was best to leave the area alone for a few days until the swarming nasties went somewhere else. I really hate hornets and yellow jackets! These insects are nothing you want to mess with.
A wood rack comes into the already tiny living area and is placed next to our wood stove at the end of October. It holds 2-3 days of wood depending on the temperatures outside. The heat from the wood stove also dries the wood even more. If a ripper of a storm is forecast, we stack some extra wood on the floor. Five-gallon buckets (you can never have enough of these) are placed on the back porch with kindling, along with the propane torch and extra propane cylinders for lighting fires.
Once it gets really cold out, the stove runs 24-7. Keep the ash bucket handy as emptying the stove is required. Move the ash bucket away from the house when it has hot ash in it. Don’t need to explain the reasoning behind this. Use extreme caution in emptying the ash bucket. We dig a hole in the snow, empty the bucket, and then water the ash with a two-gallon watering can. Better safe than sorry. The stove pipe is cleaned every autumn. Don’t try to save money by skipping this important step. It’s cheaper to clean the chimney/stove pipe than to rebuild the house because it burned down. The hearth rug is placed in front of the stove and both dogs park their fuzzy bodies on it til spring. I actually have space in my bed now!!
Our front porch is screened in and faces east. East in spring, summer, and fall is fine, but in winter, the dreaded nor’easter will blow snow through the screen and onto the porch. My husband purchased clear, corrugated plastic panels and built frames around them to cover the screens in winter. They usually go up in late October and come off in April. Our Rinnai heat monitor is vented out to our porch so the entrance area is not closed in to allow CO2 to escape. The plastic panels block a tremendous amount of wind and keep the house warmer. When the plastic panels go up, the snow shovels, ice cleats, and snowshoes are moved onto the porch after inspecting them for any damage or wear and tear. Always have several snow shovels on hand in case one breaks or you put one down and now it’s buried in a drift. You will find it in the spring, along with all kinds of other items, like animal food scoops, mittens, hats, and whatever else was lost. Several 5-gallon buckets ( see, I told you these buckets come in handy) are filled with sand and a scoop for the walkways to avoid falling and breaking necessary parts of your body.
Mid to late September is the time to check overall mechanical snow removal equipment. This allows plenty of time to order parts or get help to fix anything that needs fixing on that type of equipment. Always have plenty of sheer pins for the snow blowers on hand. Check the tires, cables, and fluid levels. Have enough fluids, shear pins, etc. on hand to make it spring, which really won’t be until mid-April. Extra gas cans are topped off and treated with a stabilizer. The log splitter also receives a thorough going-over. The 500-gallon propane tank is topped off in mid-November and again in May. Always keep a monthly check on the tank gauge, you don’t need any unpleasant surprises. Our Generac generator is also serviced. That is money well spent.
I have a large basket of mittens, hats, and scarves that are placed on the back porch. Lighter winter coats are on the hooks until the beginning of December when the serious parkas come out of storage. Boots are given a thorough going over, including the laces. Always have extra laces on hand. Mink oil is applied to leather and anything with tears or rips is repaired. My husband likes to waterproof our coats and this is done as needed.
A pile of afghans and fleece throws is placed on a bench in the bedroom and the down comforter and cover are added to the bed. Heavy, lined curtains are hung also.
Depending on temperatures, mid to late October is the time to clean up the greenhouse and garden. Ceramic pots and planters and any glass or ceramic garden decorations are stored so they won’t get wet and freeze and crack. The flower gardens are covered with pine boughs and my greenhouse beds are cleaned up with the exception of my cold frame for lettuce. The rain barrels and rainwater collection system is taken down and stored before temperatures start freezing. Same for the outside hoses. A wooden A frame is screwed to the house over the outside faucet to protect it from being crushed by ice and snow. We learned this the hard way.
We have a heated galvanized metal base for our metal waterer in the chicken house. This is tested and set up for the chickens. It runs off a thermostat and is very cost-effective. Waterers will break and crack when frozen, both plastic and metal, frequently during the winter months here so the heated base was well worth the investment.
Our pantry is always well stocked but a serious inventory is done in late September to make sure we have what is needed to get through until spring. The next town over, approximately 17 miles away, does have a feed store, grocery store, and a hardware store but any big box store is over an hour away. Going local is fine after the storm passes but you don’t want to be short of something that is only available in the big city. Yes, ordering online is always an option but sometimes UPS, FedEx or the post office can’t get through for a few days. Our friend raises a pig for us and Mr. Piggy makes the leap to the freezer in October so now we have a good meat supply in addition to all the canning that was done through the summer season.
Vehicles are given the going over, tires checked, fluid levels, and new heavy windshield wipers are installed. Backpacks are updated with winter clothes and supplies and placed in vehicles.
Mouse traps are placed around the grain storage area, garage, and in our vehicles. We do not get mice in our home since sealing off their entrance ways but they love our vehicles. They have caused a lot of money in damage by eating wires that were necessary for running important things, like the defroster fan.
The air filters apparently also make nice mouse nests. If one dies in your vehicle, the smell is unbelievable. How can something so small smell so bad?
Keep a caulking gun and some caulk handy for those cold drafty spots you find in your home. The sticky foam strip insulation is great for around drafty windows and so are the plastic sealing kits for windows. We don’t cover the windows with plastic because sunlight is really scarce up here during the winter months. Plastic packing bubble wrap also is a great window insulator. Spray the window with a little bit of soapy water (not soaking wet) and the bubble wrap will stick and stay like magic.
Foam pipe insulation is a good investment. Check water pipes, especially pipes running on the outside walls of your home. Any small amount of cold air will freeze that spot solid. There is heat tape available to wrap around water pipes but they do require electricity. Roof de-icing heating cables are available to stop ice dams from forming, but again, electricity is required.
Okay, we are now ready for winter and are waiting for the big storms to begin. We check the weather several times a day so we aren’t caught off guard. Snow squalls can be very dangerous. Think of them as thunderstorms in winter. The sky gets really dark, just like a thunderstorm, and can dump several inches of snow in a very short period of time and create havoc. You can also get thunder and lightning with heavy snowfall. The intensity is strong and visibility can be zero while the squalls are occurring. They fortunately only last for about an hour. The really big snow storms can last up to 36 hours!
When a big storm is predicted, the first thing I do is bake a batch of cookies. We will be sitting around, drinking coffee, waiting for the storm to end to begin cleanup. All clothes are washed in case of power outages. We do have a generator but no sense in taxing it with unnecessary appliance use, like a washing machine. Extra wood is stacked inside, kindling buckets topped off and now we wait. A pot of soup or chili is made because we will be hungry after cleaning up from the storm.
When the storm finally ends, lots of work begins. We previously used a tractor for snow removal but are switching to a pickup with a plow on the front. I will be able to plow when needed. I could not figure out how to run the tractor, too many pedals, levers, etc. My husband works on cleaning out the driveway and mailbox and I get to work on other areas. I shovel out the walkways, generator, and dog pen. I also rake the roof. I enjoy this particular job for some unknown reason. I think it gives me a sense of accomplishment! I take some pictures of the snow and send them to friends in Florida. Then they get to brag about how it’s 80 degrees down there and they are headed for the beach. I get my revenge on them in summer here when it’s 75 and breezy with low humidity!
After the cleanup, time to walk the dogs then back in the house for some Advil and a nap. This process will be repeated for several months. To keep sane, seed catalogs are browsed, orders placed and I begin to dream of gardening again! I also treasure every second of daylight we start gaining in December. The “list of things to do” for spring and summer is also being created and growing every day!
So there are some tips I hope the reader will find helpful for winter preparation. Stay well, work safe and my God bless you all!