Final Preparations


I hear the distant whisper of winter in the wind that blows through the dry leaves. The trees are undressing. Winter attire is barren casual.

Unless you are people, then winter attire is long johns, jeans, boots, and two or three layers on top with a jacket.

This will be our third winter on this very rural farm. I feel prepared, but nervous—because prepared is just an autumn joke you tell yourself till the middle of winter when the next unforeseen thing you didn’t know about happens and you aren’t prepared for it. Winter always has a new trick to play, and with every leaf that flutters through the air, I feel its approach.

I have a love/hate relationship with winter. I am still in love with snow. It’s so magical, especially in the country where the untouched woods turn into fairylands. But I hate the roads that scare me when they are covered in ice and snow. I don’t mind the cold so much—they make wood stoves for that. But the roads….

I don’t like the roads at all, starting with the driveway. Maybe by next winter we can afford to put more rock on it. That will help…..a little. Someday, my fantasy is to black top it. That would be the height of luxury. At least when the ice and snow melted, there wouldn’t be a foot of mud underneath.

In case you live in the suburbs and don’t understand why that is such a fantasy because you have a concrete or black top driveway already and so does everyone you know, many driveways in the country are very long. For that reason, most driveways in the country are rock or what we call rock, which is mostly dirt. Or in the winter, mud.

But it’s not winter yet, it’s just that strange time of fall when the days are cold then warm then cold then warm. Autumn is a fickle, changeable season, dating summer and winter at one time. Autumn has commitment issues.

While she wavers back and forth, I check my pantry and cabinets, counting and planning. Do I have enough of this? Can I afford to stock up on more of that? What is most important? What could I live without if I run out of it and am snowed in for a week (or more)? That last question helps bring me down to the basics. Enough hay and feed for the animals is always first. This year, for the first time, I have my own milk cow a few steps from the house. I won’t run out of milk and butter and cheese. I have eggs, too—and enough chickens and ducks that usually even through the winter, a day rarely goes by that someone isn’t laying. Flour and the other basic baking supplies such as baking powder, sugar, and yeast are top on the list. With a milk cow, chickens, and baking staples, you can live a long time or forever with little else. Luckily, I have a larder and freezer full of vegetables and fruits and meats, too. Gasoline for the generator is a must. Wood for the wood stove. A full propane tank. (I can’t run out of soap this year—I can make my own with a few staple supplies. Ha! Take that, winter.) Candles, batteries, the checklist goes on and on. Aluminum foil. (When you can’t wash dishes in a power outage, lining pans with aluminum foil is really helpful! You can wrap meats and veggies and all sorts of things to cook on a gas grill! Plus, you can make a tin foil hat to ward off space aliens! You won’t be laughing if you aren’t prepared for a space alien invasion during a power outage, people!)

Water is always a big issue, in case of a long power outage that is combined with inaccessible winter roads. We can always haul from the pond, breaking up ice if necessary, for the animals. I have done that before. It’s so much fun. Or something. I usually lay in some bottled drinking water, but this year I’m going to can drinking and cooking water in all my unused quart jars. Might as well use the jars and it’s free. (See how to can water here.) If there’s snow, and there usually is, we can always melt some on top of the wood stove. Beulah Petunia needs the most water, and I’m breaking down on the not-so-attractive-but-functional idea many farmers use for cows, which is to set out an old (preferably free) bathtub. If you know a bad storm is coming, you can collect quite a bit of fresh water to get the cow through a few days before you have to think about hauling buckets from the pond. I’ve also been studying up on rain barrels, which is something I’d like to try. As I described in this post, we actually have some fresh well water storage at the house, so we aren’t in trouble immediately in a power outage if we conserve carefully, and whenever I know a storm is coming, I fill up every container in the house. You can even fill up the bathtub and the washing machine! But having been through an extended power outage last winter, I’m still looking for ways to improve our situation for those extreme outages. (If you have any great winter water ideas, please share!) The best possible option will be if we can figure out how to run the well pump off a generator. That would solve everything. (Anyone out there doing that?)

And then I put the checklist away because today is not winter yet. Today it is warm, fickle fall.

It will be gone soon enough and it must be enjoyed.

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Posted by Suzanne McMinn on October 27, 2010  

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39 Responses | RSS feed for comments on this post

  1. 10-27

    I looked into having a generator. You need to lay in a ton of gasoline to get any reasonable running time out of those things, but intermittent use for the water pumping might well be feasible.

  2. 10-27

    It’s going to get into the low 30’s tonight, winter is almost here. Our driveway is not long, but its rock and mud and when it snow’s backing out can be rough even with four wheel drive, not fun digging your way out. But I love the snow, the quiet it brings, and the beauty. :fairy:

  3. 10-27

    Just when I thought I had covered all the bases for those winter power outages I discover that I have neglected to prepare for an alien invasion during power outages. You can make me laugh even at 3am! Off now to inventory my foil.

  4. 10-27

    A huge supply of paper plates, cups and disposable utensils. If you can’t wash dishes because of no water they your can still eat and not dirty every dish in the house.

    I have no idea about the water pump, but I hope you figure that one out then you can ignore the above suggestion. Farm supply places sell big water storage tanks. If you had a place in the basement (or someplace it wouldn’t freeze) your could store a lot of water. Having a supply of water for the animals, especially a cow, requires a big storage capacity. Or solving the generator water pump issue.

  5. 10-27

    Missouri is know for ice storms. When we had the last bad one, we were without power for 11 days. We had a small gas powered generator that we just couldn’t keep running….don’t know why. But it was small which meant just using one or two things at a time.

    After that storm, we decided to install a propane operated generator that is large enough to run everything on the farm at one time. the best part is it is automatic. So now all we have to worry about is to keep the propane tank (1000 gallon) full and we have automatic fill up for that. We have had several outages since that bad one, nothing that long, but it is a delight not to have to worry about it.

    It is a pretty expensive investment, but well worth it for us on the farm.

    Here is more food for thought: A grain mill. Wheat berries will keep indefinitely in air tight storage whereas flour becomes old and looses a great deal of nutrients. I am getting ready to buy one just for the nutritional aspects. Yes, I am becoming a whole food nut!

    Your propane company should have names of companies who install these…..something to think about.

  6. 10-27

    We have a portable propane generator that we bought from Costco and it runs everything we need, including the water pump. Our pump is in the basement (more like a cave under the old part of the house), and is connected to the circuit box. The generator adaptor is hooked up to whatever 6 breakers we want it attached to and one is the water pump. I don’t know if that helps. You seem to have a lot of country competent people around you (yourself included) so I’m sure you know about this kind of stuff, but just thought I’d chime in!

  7. 10-27

    We’we had snow twice now -it all melted away, though- and it’s snowing again. And both times when there was snow on the ground I could see the foot prints of a big BEAR on our road! I think that this guy likes walking along our road a bit too much. The last thing I want is to come face to face with the bear when I go to get the mail from the mail box. :shocked:

  8. 10-27

    We are looking into getting a generator and hooking it up like Nancy S. did. We have a “generator switch” that needs to be installed. It has an outlet box outside that receives the plug from the generator and a cable that runs through the wall inside to the breaker box. When the power goes out you flip the switch from Utility Company to Generator Power and only the circuits that are connected to the generator side of the switch get power. One of those is the well, the freezer, fridge, and living room circuit get the rest of the lines. That is my plan anyway, our electrician nephew might have other ideas depending on things that involve math. It takes a big generator though because the well start up surge is a huge pull on the available power. Much better than running an extension cord through the door.

  9. 10-27

    I know exactly what you are going through! We are doing the same thing here. (Except for the alien protection thing. You are too funny!) I’m stacking a new delivery of firewood today – 2 bush cords and that won’t be enough. We’ll get more later. We do have oil heat but don’t like to use it much.

    We have store bought 5 gal carbuoys of water in the basement and the cooler they go onto. Our well has a little door in the top that opens and its right next to the house. When we run out of water for an extended period, we can haul buckets of it up from the very deep well. It’s a long way and I have considered installing one of those little houses with a handle, roller and bucket.

    We have the bathtub out there – no livestock. (right now, anyway).

    Thinking about an electric heated dog waterer too.

    We do not have enough food for an extended power outage, unfortunatly. I can walk to the grocery store and Walmart, but in a power outage, they won’t be open either. Still thinking about that one. We’ll just have to trust the Lord to feed us :-)

  10. 10-27

    Oh the beauty of a bathtub in the yard… NOT! Sadly I have been there and done did that. It is no longer an attraction in “Rodiville” and I am good with that. It served its purpose though, the cows had plenty of water. My biggest issue was the amount of ice I had to break everyday. Somehow I always ended up getting wet and turning into a Popsicle. We are back to toting water (from the house) when we have to turn off the water at the barn. We know people who have done some unique things to spruce up the look of their yard tubs. Maybe people could submit their favorite ideas?

  11. 10-27

    You have such a wonderful style of writing!!!

  12. 10-27

    We are rural too, but with city water and only a 4 mile jaunt to town. Even so, ice brings us to our knees every winter so I too stock up and try to stay prepared. It’s supposed to dip down in the 20’s tomorrow night so Old Man Winter is just around the corner!

  13. 10-27

    Loved the romance you put in for Autumn – such a fickle maiden indeed!

  14. 10-27

    It’s not winter that leads to loooooong power outages down here. It’s hurricanes. But the water issues are the same.
    We have a well and a gas powered generator. We hook up the pump, the fridge and the freezer to the generator, and run it for an hour in the morning, and an hour in the evening to refill water jugs, flush toilets, take a sponge bath and keep the food cold. The fridge and freezer connect with extension cords, and there is a special plug to fit the well pump.
    Your well company should be able to help you set it up so it can be hooked to a generator. Have you asked them?
    Running the generator for just an hour twice a day saves a ton of gas, and gives us all the power we need. I hate the noise of it, but I love the results.

  15. 10-27

    We have in the past plugged in the well pump to fill containers and keep us going. Run it for a little then unplug, to run something else. My well pump was inside my house. I’m the queen of extension cords and do not touch them for anything else but the generator! I can also remember having 4 to 5 inches of ice in my gravel driveway, no we have black top. Some of the best money we have spent, in a day or two you can have the ice melted away. Snow is ok, but ice not good!

  16. 10-27

    We got county water a couple of years ago but kept access to our well pump and ended up using it last year. We have the two 15 amp circuit breakers ran through a transfer switch and we can just hook the generator up and switch that circuit breaker on and the pump is up and running. With backup propane heat, other than the noise, we barely know the power is out. It is so nice!!

    If you want details on the transfer switch let me know. There are shortcut ways to hook up a generator but they are illegal due to the risk of back-feed that can kill/injury linemen working on downed lines. It was worth the money to buy the transfer switch for peace of mind that I wouldn’t harm anyone! I wired it myself and then had it inspected. Not hard to do at all.

  17. 10-27

    Don’t forget to stock up on TP, wouldn’t want to run out of that!

  18. 10-27

    Oops, one thing I forgot…our well is hardwired so that’s why we had to go through the circuit breaker. Others here seem to have plug in pumps so it might be as easy as getting a plug adapter, depending on how your pump is wired.

  19. 10-27

    Don’t forget the matches and oil for lanterns, this is something I usually keep all year. I think the snow is beautiful but I do not like it on the roads! We have a very long uphill gravel driveway and it gets washed out often. Hoping some day to get ours black topped also. I love this time of the year but not real crazy about freezing weather so I kind of dread winter, except for Christmas time, I love Christmas! :yes:

  20. 10-27

    It is both snowing and blowing vigorously, as I write this! Yet the forecast says 50s for this weekend… fickle, yes. But today, at least, not so warm in my neck of the woods.

  21. 10-27

    Suzanne, I’m not sure if it’s something you’d be interested in but a solar water trough is something you could definately use!

  22. 10-27

    I too have a water fixation in the winter. If the water tanks freeze (usually if the wind chill makes the temps below 30 degrees below zero) I can turn the cows out to the “flat”, where a tile runs water all the time. Trouble is, when it’s that nasty out, the girls don’t want to trek a half/mile to drink, but they know water is waiting so they bend their heads to the wind, single-file to the tile, drink, then single-file back to the barn. Gwen leads.

    This year I have two water collection tubs for under the eaves, but I don’t think I can put them out in the winter because they will freeze. I’m a novice in this area, but want to learn more. I purchased them at Ace Hardware and they are very cool: overflow spigots, wire filter on top, lower spigot to unload water. They each hold 50 gallon. Now if I can figure out a way to use the water for my hot water heater…..

    We’re behind this year on cutting wood…need to get about five more loads. How is your supply???

    Oh, check out the Mirafount waterers. They hardly ever freeze….

  23. 10-27

    Thanks for the info about canning water. I love the idea, because, honestly, storing canning jars takes as much space whether they’re empty or full of water! It seems like a wonderful way to keep emergency water for the house.

  24. 10-27

    here in Wisconsin we’re currently experiencing the worst wind storm ever. I’m not even considering going outside, because I don’t have to. I cannot stand wind. When I lived on a farm my lane was a quarter mile long and very very steep. I too had dreams of one day seal-coating it. What a fantasy! It would have been way too expensive to ever do it, and keeping it from washing out would have been near impossible. I love that I can read your blog Suzanne and have the best of what you have through your words and photos, and at the same time all the conveniences of the snowplow driving past my house every few hours and making life soooo much easier! :hug:

  25. 10-27

    One thing I noticed in your well photo was the fact that it runs on 240 volts. At least, that is what was printed on the box. If you get a generator for the well, make sure it will put out 240 volts, not just 120.

  26. 10-27

    I just have a tiny tip for you about getting along with minimum water. But every little bit helps I guess. All year long whenever you have an empty shampoo bottle, instead of throwing it out fill it up with water and store it. Then anytime you might be short on water you can use your shampoo bottle water for hand and face washing, anything like that, and it’s just a hint of soapy so needs very little rinse water.

  27. 10-27

    Sounds like you are about ready!

    We have stock tanks for our horses and fill them before the bad weather.

  28. 10-27

    Go visit the website for Emergency Essentials for anything you can even think of regarding water and food storage. This company is for a little more hard core folks (survivalist), but if you need anything for a possible emergency of any kind, they’re the folks you want to see. Containers, filters, systems, you name it, they’ve got it and all the emergency supplies it would take to operate a small country. Check it out.

  29. 10-27

    Water barrels are good for summer time. We used one last summer, to water our square foot garden all summer. But they need to be put away in the winter. They freeze up really fast, and end up warping. If you are thinking about a generator.Look at some of those made by, Honda, or yamaha. A few more dollars, but will not cost you an arm and leg to run.

  30. 10-27

    I mentioned this in another post and I may have missed the answer somewhere – where will all of the animals stay in the winter time? Do they have access to a barn?

  31. 10-27

    Lynne, we have shelters in their fields for them.

  32. 10-27

    Suzanne, I’m concerned about water this winter too. Like others, our well pump is hard-wired so I’m thinking about calling an electrician to do some re-wiring so we can run it with a generator when the power is out but we’ll also need to buy a larger generator–one with a 240 plug. Sam’s Club in Charleston did have a Honda for around $1,000(however there’s a bigger selection at Sam’s online) and, of course, Lowe’s has them (when they’re not sold out because of power outages). I believe Harbor Freight sells them online too but I don’t know the quality of those at Harbor Freight. Lowe’s also has the whole house generators that run on propane and come on automatically during power outages, but, like one of the other writers said, they’re considerably more expensive.

    I’d love to have a spring-fed cistern like we had when I was growing up that was located on the side of the hill and water flowed by gravity through an underground pipe (undergound to keep it from freezing)to the house. The “spring” is still there and flows most, if not all of the time during the year, as well as another spring located at a lower elevation near the house. I’d love to have these supply water for the clothes washer too.

    If you can find some of those 30-50 gallon plastic barrels/containers that once contained food stuff (fruit fillings, juices, etc.)that are sometimes advertised in The Ad Bulletin or one of those other circulars to use for water storage tanks and somehow insulate around them so they don’t freeze (i.e., perhaps surround them with straw bales or something), that might be a good way to store water for the animals (and yourself). I once saw some at the Habitat for Humanity store in Charleston with soy sauce labels still on them that had been converted to “rain barrels”. Someone had put a spigot/faucet in the side of the barrel (near the bottom) for the water to flow through and a garden hose could be attached to it when needed. At $25/each, I decided I’d try to find some barrels and make my own but haven’t found any yet. If any of your readers know where I/we can get those used plastic food barrels cheaply (or free would be better) in West Virginia (preferably not far from Roane County, I’d appreciate hearing.

    Good luck with your preparations for old man winter.

  33. 10-28

    Like one of the first comments, I have a whole house automatic generator that runs on propane. We put it in when we built the new house, and I must say, it’s 3 steps above wonderful. I didn’t want to spend the $$$, but my husband reminded me of the 31(yes,31) days we spent after hurricane Rita with nothing but a generator big enough to run the frig and the ceiling fans. Afterwards, when things sorta (ha) got back to normal, we bought a larger generator and installed the electric co-op disconnect others have mentioned, at our old house. Although filling the propane tank is enough to give me a coronary, I think it’s quieter than the gasoline. If I had to do it again tomorrow, I would buy the big whole house generator. On 70 acres in the middle of nowhere, it’s as important to me as the tractor. Good luck this winter, I think it’s gonna be a dewsie. :wave:

  34. 10-28

    the beauty for me…at least for the new fallen snow is the first day. White,pristine,and the cold quite silence. Then it is all ruined when each day it thaws just a bit and freezes over every night leaving everything. SLUSHY, dirty and treacherous.

  35. 10-28

    You may want to locate a supply of cinders for your driveway. Any neighbors burn coal? Our nextdoor neighbor “blacktopped” his drive way. Come winter and a light coating of ice and he found out it was not such a good idea. He pulled in and slid down his driveway and hit the back of his garage. I’ll take dirt and gravel and stone anyday. More traction, especially with ice. Put up a supply of gravel or cinders you can spread on the really scary spots of your driveway for more traction. Carry some in your vehicle too in case you get stuck and need traction. Big burlap or plastic sack of cinders or gravel will come in handy in the winter.

  36. 10-28

    After reading all this I’ve never been so happy to live in Florida. :sun: Hurricanes are so much easier to prepare for than months of freezing weather- or at least it seems. Remind me of this next August.

  37. 10-28

    You are way ahead of the curve. When we had no power or water for many days, we put 55 gallon drums in the back of our truck and drove to town where they still had power and water…filled them up and put it into the buckets and water troughs. I always fill up extra buckets if a storm is coming on. I would want more stone in the driveway too. Mud is not good.

  38. 11-29

    suzanne we have a whole house generator which includes the water pump. such a luxury. i was wondering if you had a pond. i know several farmers in the area somehow got free ponds with funds from the state. might contact the local extension office and inquire they also got feed lots, maybe not the right name you know the building with roofs and concrete but no sides. like you i am carrying water from the house for the animals but no cows just chickens.

  39. 12-19

    A little late with this, but back in the 1950’s when I was growing up on the farm, my grandfather had hydraulic rams to lift the water up the hill to the farm. There was a “ram house” where the things were, beside a pond made by damming up the brook. The rams would pump and the water came up the hill into tanks, one in the house & one in the barn. They apparently ran by themselves, no electricity. Anyone else ever hear of this? Of course it was a long time ago!

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