Thursday, January 9, 2020

Challenges at 29F Below Zero (-34C)

After the record breaking warmth in Alaska during every month of 2019, including rain on New Year's Eve (!), I was astonished when the temperatures plummeted last week to teens below 0 F, and kept dropping to the low 20s and 30s below 0 F this week. These arctic conditions are predicted to remain for another week.  (Thank goodness there is no windchill factor).  Interior Alaskans might regard me as wimpy (Bettles was 60F below 0 last week), but I find this weather brutal.

For three days, I had NO interest in doing any projects outside.  My husband dressed up like an astronaut in multiple layers of quilted, lined winter wear to do any outdoor chores, such as checking on the animals and hauling load after load of wood to our cabin.   When I finally ventured out myself, I could perform only one or two brief projects before retreating inside to warm up.

As you can imagine, we are rapidly depleting the wood supply that heats our two room, 750 sq. ft. cabin and our hot tub.  On warm winter days  of +20 to 30 F, we burn, per day, about 15 small birch logs in our wood stove.  At 0 degrees F, we ignite up to 30.  Currently, we are churning through about 45 logs to maintain patchy interior temperatures of low 50s to high 60s.  That may sound cool, but it is 70-80 degrees warmer than outside. We have already burned half of the dry logs my husband cut last summer.  (Fortunately, we live in a forest and have already flagged standing dead trees for future fuel).

Thursday, December 19, 2019

How Does a Remote Home Get Mail?

Almost home!
Living 42 miles from the nearest road, we receive no mail service.  A frequent question we hear is, “How do you get mail?”  The short answer is “infrequently.”

Maybe in the future people will receive deliveries by drone, but in the meantime, we maintain a P.O. box in a nearby town and check it every few months.  For several years, when we acquired frequent products on-line, a UPS type shop was convenient because it would send us a note when a package arrived and hold it for us for several months, if necessary.  But their price doubled from $150 to $300 per year and we decided to switch to a local post office that charges only $95/year, since our purchases had declined.  However, I did not realize at the time that their policy is to return any packages too big for our box after 14 days - and not notify us.  The first year, a friend called to say that her birthday gift to me had been returned!  I felt so bad.

Unfortunately, one type of bulky and time sensitive purchase can ONLY be shipped to me during the fall and spring months - a time of year when we have NO means of transportation to town.  These are the live roots, rhizomes, and bulbs of vegetables and fruit that I grow.  I missed a entire year's season when we first switched to the Post Office box because I did not know their “return without notification” policy.

Since then, I made arrangements with a dear friend and fellow gardener who will take delivery of such seasonal plants as asparagus crowns, seed potatoes, horseradish root, and garlic bulbs for me, in exchange for a few of the items.  I am grateful for her assistance.  And the purple asparagus and blue potatoes are great!

Do I miss mail service?  No.  Important items, like checks, taxes, and correspondence with clients, friends, and relatives are all conveniently done by email.  Most of the paper that fills my P.O. box is  a plethora of unsolicited catalogues... which I repeatedly call to cancel.
The only personal mail we receive there tends to be from older friends and relatives who send thoughtful cards for birthdays and Christmas, which we retrieve... eventually.  Plus seed catalogues, which I do love.  Any untreated paper is transported home to start fires in the woodstove or hot tub. 


Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Twelve Homesteader Live Gifts that Keep on Giving

In the spirit of the season, I offer a “Twelve Days of Christmas” list of LIVE gifts that keep on giving to us here, at a remote homestead. 

1:  Gallon of red wiggler worms, divided among my food gardens.  They eat the kitchen scraps I toss there and rapidly improve the soil.   

2:  Years' worth of seeds (many degrade after that: check with a float/sink test each year).

3: Rabbits (1 buck and 2 does).  They can be mated at about five months and over the year, fill our larder.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Winter Snow Challenges at a Remote Home

We had to dig out the hives so the bees
wouldn't suffocate
Many people who do not live in Alaska are leery of our long, cold, dark winters.  Others flock up here for winter sports, such as races for dog mushers, snowmachines, hikers, cross country skiiers, and even fat tired bicycles (!).

We tend to say that “There is no such thing as bad weather, just poor clothing.”  I respectfully disagree.  To “There is no such thing as bad weather” I would add that there is also poor construction, poor judgment,  and inadequate (or inaccessible) tools.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Variable Food Production Results at a Remote Alaska Home

Please click on this link to an article we published on

Raising (including hunting and fishing) food (meat, fruit, vegetables, herbs, and honey) yields highly variable results from one year to the next so we are not cavalier about a good harvest.

Here are some of our successes and failures, lessons, and mistakes.

Photo: Nasturtium vinegar.  So beautiful, and tasty, too, with a horseradish like bite.