The onset of fall means that lots of critters are running around busily getting ready for the winter, including squirrels, bears and, of course, humans.
For homesteaders in particular, this season is the time to hurry up and get it done. And no matter what, your to-do list is usually longer than the number of hours in the day and may run the gamut from garden to house to firewood. It even sometimes includes walking the woods to gather leaves and other fodder to keep goats happy and fed in the winter.
“It’s almost overwhelming,” Patty Pendergast of Thorndike said of the checklist of things to do before winter.
The 63-year-old lives in an old farmhouse she calls Gaelforce Farm that always needs a lot of TLC, especially before snow flies. On her list for this fall is scraping and painting and caulking the windowsills, covering the windows with plastic, cleaning up around the edges of the house, setting bait to keep mice and rats out for the winter and making sure her pellet stove is functional and clean. She also keeps goats, which need to be wormed, and a big garden, which requires a lot of hands-on winterization and food preparation work. She’s been racing around canning tomatoes and pears and pickling eggplants, as well as fertilizing her garden for the winter. In short, don’t get in Pendergast’s way right now — she is on a mission.
“I am the kind of person that keeps my head down and just keeps charging along, which is kind of what you’ve got to do,” she said. “If I don’t get it done, there’s always another day.”
Over on Matinicus, Eva Murray has been busy switching over from summertime mode. In the summers, she runs a bakery out of her home, which keeps her hopping seven days a week from the end of June to Labor Day. The advent of fall means that it is time to break down the bakery and prepare her blacksmith shop, located in her yard and only used in the winter.
“The white dust and the black dust must never meet,” Murray said of the importance of keeping the bakery and the blacksmith shop separated.
She also is working a little bit at a time to repaint her house. Islands, with their fog and salt air, have a corrosive effect on paint and so Murray is trying to do a little bit of repainting every year. But her favorite autumnal task is fairly unusual: relocating monarch butterfly chrysalises from their hiding places around the house.
“They tend to be on ladders and things,” Murray said. “My husband has been known to very carefully move and relocate viable chrysalises off needed tools, so he can save the butterflies and move the ladder. Anytime you grab anything that’s been out in the yard you have to look it over carefully.”
Meanwhile, in Searsport, homesteader and carpenter Scott Giroux has been busy preparing his family’s garden bed for next spring the no-till way.
“We lay down compost, lay down cardboard and put wood chips on top of that,” he said. “And let it sit over the winter.”
In the fall, he also plants garlic and a small patch of winter wheat as a cover crop. One thing he doesn’t have on his list is firewood, which heats his family’s small house.
“We get the wood all cut, stacked and split by the end of sugaring season [in the spring],” he said. “We try to have it good and dry — it burns better that way.”
One important task is cleaning up the apples that have fallen on the ground around the apple trees. Doing this helps minimize the insect pest problem.
“Otherwise the pests will end up in the ground to attack the new crop,” he said.
Giroux also will turn the compost one last time before winter, to add air that will keep the microbes alive and the compost heated up. Another autumnal job he is looking forward to finishing is building a sauna and hot tub building on the property.
“There’s nothing nicer” than sitting in the sauna on a cold winter day, he said.
Homesteader Shana Hanson of Belfast also has a diverse assortment of jobs ahead of her before snow falls, but perhaps the most important for her is harvesting green leaves, bean stalks and other plant material to use as fodder for her six goats over the winter. She has been storing the fodder in her barn, next to the bales of hay, and said that it is a treat for her herd.
“My goats love the plants when they’re like this,” she said as she separated beans from the beanstalks on the floor of her house. “If you get them before frost, you get animal fodder. It’s really the last chance to get anything that’s outside.”