Butchering Season Part One

Disclaimer: The end of this blog post contains photos of dead caribou. Whether wild harvested or grown on the farm, killing and then processing the animals is how we provide our family with protein.

The past three weeks have been full on winter with mornings of as cold as -27°F, snow, and ice on the lake that has now frozen thick enough to walk and ski on. The lake froze over on the night of October 22.

The last mountain reflections of 2020

The pace of life in our household has slowed down from hectic, exhausting frenzy to more manageable school and chore filled days.

The snowy garden as the sun slips behind the Chugach Mountains on October 29, 2020 at 5:17 PM

Hauling water to the pigs is my least favorite chore these days. We do not usually keep pigs into the time of year of subzero temps. It is on the to do list to butcher them but we have been waiting for a warm weather window for the process. I have been piling up large mounds of straw for them to burrow under and bringing them warm water twice a day. I used the 4 wheeler and trailer until it became too cold for the machine to start. A few days into hand sledding buckets of water through fresh snow all the way to the pigs, my husband got out my tundra snow machine for me to use.

Another day of animal chores below zero!

They seem happy especially when eating pumpkin guts.

I finally had the time to get 20 pounds of frozen whole tomatoes from the freezer. I processed them into pizza sauce for our homemade pizzas, which we make on Friday movie nights. (Anyone else watching the Mandalorian every Friday?)

I baked some pumpkins for pie because when it is cold having the oven on is a really good thing!

I peeled and fermented a quart of garlic cloves to use when the fresh supply runs out. The fresh cloves start to grow, which degrades the eating quality, by January or February. I usually ferment, freeze, and dry cloves so that we have garden garlic to use year round but I have not made time to processing the majority of the harvest yet.

Fall/early winter butchering season has begun in earnest. While processing meat can happen any time of year (trout from winter ice fishing, spring black bear, midsummer meat chickens, late summer grouse etc…), the majority of our protein comes from the meat we grow on the farm and wild harvest during the state hunting seasons in the fall. I started eating meat again the winter before I moved to Alaska. For over 5 years, starting in my late teens, I first gave up factory farmed red meat, then ate a vegetarian diet and then tried out over a year of consuming only vegan foods. I had tried to align my beliefs of anti animal cruelty with my diet. I was living in Bozeman, Montana in 2001 working temp construction jobs in below freezing temperatures to make the rent and save enough money to get back home to New England, when I was invited through friends of friends to the home of a rancher’s son. He cooked up the largest platter of steaks I had ever seen and somehow after all those meat free years, it felt like time. I still remember how that steak tasted with its perfectly grilled outside, tender pink center, and the crisp fat of the grass fed open range beef. My mouth waters just thinking about it. Over the next several years I learned more about farmers who ethically raise animals in humane conditions, homesteaders who raise their own animals for consumption, and subsistence fishing and hunts for rural Alaskans who provide part (or most) of their diet with harvests of animals from the land and sea. 18 years in Alaska now, I have supported small farmers who ethically raise meat animals as well as hunted small game, processed big game harvested at hunting camp and by my family, and butchered our own farm raised pigs and chickens. Consuming meat again benefited my physical health and increased my mental clarity. It is emotionally difficult for me to harvest animals but I think it should be difficult, taking a life should hold weight. Our children have been raised knowing where their food comes from and that to feed ourselves, to thrive physically with a healthy diet, plants and animals have lost their lives. I think this connection, this understanding, is important too.

The subsistence Nelchina herd caribou hunt opened on October 21 and C, S and T tried but were not successful on their first attempt. C and T headed back up a week later and connected with two young bulls, perfect for eating. It was allowable this year to harvest cows without calves but we do not like to take future breeders from the herd even though the cow meat is the most delicious. It was really cold so they loaded them up in the truck gutted but whole. We spent all of Halloween day with caribou in the house while T and C and S first skinned, then separated the carcasses into tenderloins and backstops, leg quarters and ribs while I cleaned, cubed, and made burger with the neck and scrap meats. Butchering days are long because you can not stop until the job is done especially when it is sub zero outside. But it is worthwhile work breaking carcasses down and being part of the transformation from whole animal to frozen packets of meats that will make delicious meals all winter and spring.

C helps remove the back-strap. After aging for a few days we ate them and it was delicious!
Making do with the space we have in the utility room/pantry.
S’s first time skinning caribou

I aged the meat under the house for several days before we froze the whole quarters to cut with our meat band saw. It is much easier to cut frozen meat into nice steaks and roasts with the saw. The next step is to butcher our pigs so we can make caribou/pork fresh sausages. Yum! Homemade sausages and sauerkraut are our “fast food” dinners when I have neglected to make a dinner plan and we need something quick at the end of a long day. I miss that meal option on the years we do not raise pigs.

This winter I have set a goal to get out and walk or ski everyday regardless of weather and cold temps. I do not make it everyday, especially on long butchering days, but I keep trying! I went for my first ski on the lake November 4th and was treated to an incredible viewing of a sundog. It looked like this when I was half way around the lake.

And then it looked like this when I got back to the house when the sun slipped behind the Chugach. Sundogs are a sign of a change in weather. Our short window of sunlight on winter days is even shorter when the sun spends its last hour behind the mountains. Only 6 weeks left until the shortest day and then we will be gaining daylight again!

Best wishes from my farm to yours.

Hello Winter.

6 AM and it is 2 degrees above zero. I came downstairs to stoke the wood stove and decided to take advantage of the deep quiet of early morning and have a little time to myself. Logs are popping and groaning in the fire and the old dog is warming his aching bones on the heated floor just in front of the stove door. His long list of healed injuries are apparent in the stiffness of his gait in the cold. Winter is hard on him.

After harvesting a trailer load of peat from the peat pit, my son and I stopped to look at the ice starting on the pond.

Yesterday it was 19°F when I got up and the high temperature of the day was 25°F. It was the first day since last spring where we did not warm up above freezing even in the bright sunshine. The lower arc of the sun just hits the top third of the garden this time of year and it has lost its warming power even at full strength with nary a cloud in sight. The nights have been pretty chilly this week, in the 20s, and the lower garden started freezing up, and not thawing out during the day, this past week. In mid September to mid October we lose significant day length as well as the amount of above freezing hours you can work with the ground outside. Each day the amount of time the ground is workable shrinks until you finally get a day like yesterday when it does not thaw at all.

October 13. The lower beds in the garden are freezing up.

It took just two days of cold for the ground to form a frozen crust. The puddles are solid ice and the water buckets for the animals all need to be filled daily. or several times a day for the pigs who like to tip theirs over. Imps. The small ponds are freezing up and the lake will not be far behind. The annual fall rush can be defined as working like a madwoman outside up until this day when I finally have to throw in the towel and be done with the garden until next spring. You just never know when it will happen. There have been years when I have looked around and stated “I will hate myself in the spring” because far too little prep was accomplished when the ground froze by the first week of October. In spring, there is an even narrower window to get everything in the ground for our short growing season and the more prep you do in the fall, the better. This year despite the extra hours spent indoors with homeschool, the garden is actually looking pretty good. Sure, I would love to have done more but it is not a total disaster. A lot has been accomplished in this last two weeks of fall.

The cold hardy plants still in the garden, the cabbages, leeks, Brussels sprouts, and kale, were harvested and brought to the house. My son ran the big woody plants through the chipper/mulcher for composting and my daughter helped harvest. The voles have taken up residence in force this fall so I am removing plant debris from the garden to the compost pile so there are not as many places for them to hide. Hopefully an ermine or pine marten will pass through and clear some out.

I crimped the cover crop row of barley and alfalfa down with an old poplar board so the plants would protect the bed over the winter.

And I discovered a surprise at the end of the row. Last year in 2019, rosemary and thyme were planted in this bed and a thyme plant survived the winter, survived weeding and planting, and survived being neglected all summer. What a hardy plant! I probably should have dug it up and saved it or left it be but I was in a hurry so I harvested it and moved on.

We moved the sandbags off the silage tarp that had been on unused weedy lower beds since it was shipped up here this summer and I drug the giant black tarp to a new position for winter. I had had an order in for two more tarps in the hopes of covering the majority of the beds for the winter but the order was postponed until spring as apparently the factory where the tarps are made had delays due to the hurricanes. My thought, or hope, is that when the sun melts back the snow in the spring and all the cold hardy native plants begin to grow, that the section on the tarp will warm, the weed seeds will germinate, and then they will die of light deprivation by the time the ground is thawed and dry enough for me to get in there and start planting. I am always impressed by the plants that can start growing when the soil just thaws a half inch at a time during the day and refreezes at night. I do not like making the time to weed out all these plants before seeding.

30′ by 100′ silage tarp. Flat ground sure would be easier.

I am not a big fan of utilizing a lot of plastic, however, these reusable tarps can provide an enormous amount of saved time in the market garden through clever use. You can rapidly break down cover crops in the heat of summer, protect uncovered soil, and burn off the top layer of the weed bank in the top of your soil (I need this the most!). Nearly half of my garden is thick in native perennial horsetail and I am hoping a few years of occultation with the tarps will help me control this plant that takes far too long to weed using traditional methods (and then grows right back). When I moved the silage tarp last week I was treated to a lovely sight, weed free garden beds. So far so good. With our short season and cooler temperatures, the tarps will be less effective than on lower 48 farms, but I am excited to have this tool in my toolbox.

Several beds just uncovered and looking ready to go for spring (except for mulching with compost). Weed free!

Swans and geese have been flying over regularly heading southeast. I love to hear the honking and have an excuse to stop laboring and look for the flocks. Sometimes they are way up in the sky and sometimes skimming the treetops but always a happy sight to see.

The sky spit snow on Thursday, the first flakes I have seen this season. Every few hours the sky would open up and a short burst of flurries would come down. It all melted right away in Strelna but made the outdoor work damp and chilly.

You can not tell in this picture except for a few white streaks but it was snowing!

My daughter and I have been working all week on prepping the topmost 4 garden beds that have my low tunnel hoops.

It is important to get every last bit of compost out of the wheelbarrow! Though you can only tell by looking at the white steaks on my brown carhartts and speckled white ground, it was snowing when Sylvia took this picture too.

If nothing else, I wanted those beds ready to go in spring for early greens. I kept the plastic up for a while which kept the soil warmer than it would have been otherwise allowing us to weed and broad fork later than if I hadn’t. It was chilly work but we did it, finally finishing yesterday evening even with the soil frozen an inch on top. Luckily all we had left to do the last day was spread compost on 150 square feet, one half of one bed. The beds were weeded and then spread with compost and broad forked. I had hoped to spread even more compost on other beds but that will have to wait for spring.

It is only 5:45 PM but the sun has already gone behind the mountains. Time to go inside by the fire!
4 prepped beds. Awesomeness!

I still have at least 4 to do lists going. Now that I can turn my back on the main garden, I need to focus on mixing seed starting soil (a challenge with these temps) and getting the greenhouse prepped for spring starts. I should be able to work on it for a while as long as we do not get a large amount of snow. I can see light at the end of the tunnel though. Soon there will be more moments like the one now where I have time to watch the sky begin to lighten, to contemplate life with a cat on my lap (typing is a little challenging in this scenario…), and feel cozy by the wood stove.

And then she took over the whole keyboard and opened up several windows. I will put up with it because she is not often physically snugly so this is a rare treat. And her winter fur is so dense, soft, and warm.

Even though the sun will not be above the horizon for another half hour (sunrise is 8:28 this morning), it is light enough now to see frost covered trees on the other side of the lake.

Good Morning

The browns of Octobers changed overnight to shimmering silver. How beautiful.

The temperature has continued to drop as the sun comes up. It is -1° now. There is fresh lake ice. I better get the water pump off the dock today before it freezes in!

Best wishes from my farm to yours.

Fall Burn Out

I spent this past week mired in the weeds of life. Not literal weeds, though in truth there are many garden beds that need weeding and compost spreading before freeze up, but the weeds of my life: dishes, laundry, hauling water, yard clean up, homeschool etc… I just could not get on top of the basics that allow our life to run smoothly. I woke up utterly exhausted every morning. I had a really difficult time getting the kids ready and geared up for another school day. Day after day, I lay in bed totally unenthused about the tasks that lay ahead.

The weather is partly to blame. I have been experiencing two long drawn out gray weeks with hundreds of shades of blah spiced up only by strong winds that whip up white capped waves on the lake and ripped the beautiful golden leaves from the branches of the willow and aspens. I am having to run the generator to charge our batteries nearly every day as I have three freezers full of winter stores plugged in and with no sun, our solar panels are not adding much to our battery bank. The gray days are depressing. One gray cool day after another means soldiering on with the outside chores with zero cheer.

I did make some delicious roasted tomato sauce this week with tomatoes that have ripened inside.

Fall is at once a brief interlude AND a couple months long descent into winter. The beautiful fall, when the mountains turn red and the river valleys with willow and aspen run golden, lasts a week or two in September. But for us, fall really begins at the end of July. The garden is at its peak production and we work like pack rats to put food away for winter knowing frost is a mere few weeks away. The first yellow leaves show up then and the greenery, only 3 months old, starts to look tired. There is no more hot weather in August though you might get some pretty nice days. Once September hits, it is an all out race to see how much you can get done before the ground freezes. Sometimes it snows in September, sometimes we have a long drawn out fall with days in the 50s and freezing night temps. This year though it is just cool and cloudy with not much rain so I still had to irrigate the garden! It is, however, pouring rain right now so I can cross irrigating the garlic bed off my list.

The transition to fall challenges the whole family. I have navigated the difficult adjustment each year of saying goodbye to my husband when he leaves to guide in the Brooks Range at the end of July and then comes back into our lives in October for the entirety of our relationship. My first year in Alaska was his first season working at hunt camp. That transition only became harder for me when he left behind kids as well. We are so busy when Tim leaves that adjusting to his departure only takes a few days. The children have grown up with this routine. All those difficult years with toddler and baby of telling nightly stories of Dad hunting in the mountains with his clients and repeating over and over again when Dad will come home, mean that the kids now know the routine and do not fret terribly over his absence. They miss him and they look forward to his return but they know what to expect. Adding back the other adult into the household while exciting and wonderful in most ways also brings with it the challenge of communication and negotiation of priorities. I struggle with this every year having made all the decisions on my own for the homestead for the previous two months.

But regardless, we are counting the days until Tim is finally home and I seem to have made it through my week of melancholia though the weather has not improved (at all). I am back at work with a decent attitude anyway. The past two weeks have mostly been yard clean up and organization of garden stuff. Somehow items did not get put back every time they were used (how on earth did that happen?) and it was time to put forth the effort to collect and properly store all the rakes and shovels, weeding equipment, totes and carts and other garden miscellany. This helped me organize my thoughts and priorities too as items were stacked away. And now if we get a snowstorm I will not be caught out entirely unprepared.

The kids and I finished harvesting the potatoes two weeks ago. They have cured since the harvest under tarps to keep them from greening up and as of yesterday are now stored in crates under the house. It was a fabulous potato year and even with 86 pounds of vole damaged potatoes, there are over 500 pounds of perfect ones. We have enough for ourselves and to share and to sell some too which helps to cover the cost of the expensive double certified seed potatoes I buy in. Someday I will have a root cellar that will not freeze up and I will be able to save my own seed potatoes for growing the next year.

So many potatoes!

I had hoped to have the garlic planted in the ground by the end of September but with an extra challenging school week it did not happen until October 1. The garlic we harvested in August is fully cured and I cut it off the stalk and bagged it up for winter. From the 300 cloves we planted in the fall of 2019, we harvested over 24 pounds. It is hard to know exactly how much we actually grew as we have been eating it fresh, fermenting with it, and consuming the drying ones since July. But I weighed up 23 pounds 11 ounces of what we had on trays this week so it is safe to say we had a bit more than that. I put a garlic seed order in earlier this summer so I had 6 pounds of commercial garlic seed cloves come in the mail and I picked out 5 1/2 pounds of the biggest and best from my harvest to plant as well.

Beautiful Siberian garlic heads

I prepped the garlic bed on the 30th with my daughter and we weeded with head nets on to protects us from the biting gnats that plague us this time of year. The garlic is going in where the giant flat peas grew all summer. I cut the pea plants at the soil line leaving the roots in the ground after the first frost damaged the plants and remaining peas. Leaving the roots of any plants that have been growing is a good way to hold the soil structure together. In addition, these peas formed a symbiotic relationship with rhizobium bacteria and the roots are covered in nitrogen fixing nodules that will enrich the soil next season which is perfect for the garlic that needs a high fertility soil.

After weeding we added two wheelbarrow loads of compost. The next day I broad forked the row to loosen but not invert the soil layers. Then the bed was raked smooth and I drew 4 evenly spaced lines with my bed rake markers. I used my wooden dibble made from an old tool handle to make 400 holes 6 inches apart and between 3 to 4 inches deep. My daughter and I planted the 400 garlic cloves keeping a careful log of what was planted where and then covered the bed with an additional wheelbarrow load of compost. All we need to do is water (the rain is doing it for me right now!) and add a thick layer of straw and the garlic will be be all set for the winter.

50 bed feet for the garlic this year

In anticipation of meat coming home from hunt camp, I finally carved out the time to paint the shed and set up the freezers in their new home. Due to rainy weather, I still have not painted the trim around the door but the rest is done and it will feel great to cross this project off the list as it has been hanging over my head since we moved it across the yard this spring.

Almost done! Just need one more warm and not rainy day to finish the door trim.

This weekend I have been working on some garden cleanup by taking plant remains to the compost pile and starting to harvest the leeks, fall cabbages, and remaining Brussels Sprouts. With any luck our warm fall weather will continue and I will get more spring prep work accomplished. Fingers Crossed!

Fall migration stragglers

Best wishes from my farm to yours 🍂

Carrots, Frost, and a Messy Yard

A spectacular sunset on September 7, 2020

It is so quiet at 5:45 AM that all I can hear is the gentle hum of our inverter power system and the chewing of hay in the guinea pig cage. It is the second morning in a row where the ground is not covered in icy frost. We had 20°F for four mornings this past week. It rained yesterday on and off and when I saw stars this morning I thought for sure that it would be frozen solid out, a wet saturated icy mess. I have 15 gallon plant pots full of soil, tubs and totes, cleaning tables and tools, potato box pieces and buckets scattered in the yard. As much as I would like to clean and organize these items, it is a low priority project as I scurry to get as much food out of the garden as possible before the voles eat it or winter closes in. It is not frozen out though this morning, unexpectedly. Instead it is 45° and damp. Another fall day, thankfully not yet winter. There is so much to do.

Our household routine these past two weeks has been to get up and start classes by 9. While assisting/monitoring that, I process food in the kitchen which warms up the house and makes use of the hours waiting for the frost to melt off.

Brussels that need to be processed!

Once school is done for the day, or the kids can work independently, I go out to the garden to harvest more. We brought in the squash harvest after the first night that was cold enough to nip the plants under plastic tunnels, Sept 6th.

I built two 8 foot by 3 foot cleaning tables to use to wash the harvest (as well as hold trays of garden starts in the spring). I have been meaning to do this for a few months and finally got to it when the carrot harvest started in earnest.

It took longer than I would have liked to get the carrots out of the ground. I always over estimate what I am capable of accomplishing in a day, or a week. But finally I did get the last of them out of the ground on the 14th and with very little vole damage. The carrots were a little funny this year with perfectly normal carrots growing next to stunted runts. But the overall harvest was decent.

The greenhouse stove perking away on a 20° morning

I came home from delivering carrots in McCarthy last Saturday evening and brought the greenhouse harvest and all the plants in pots into the house. I was out of the 22 inch length greenhouse wood and while I could have used the shorter house wood, we are low on that too. We moved our shed this spring and have yet to build the new wood shed that attaches to the front of the storage shed. We did not cut our usual four cords of wood last spring either because we were thinking ahead so that we would not have to move it twice or because with covid and schooling at home it just did not happen. I am not the biggest fan of going into the winter without our stockpile of wood split and stacked but at least the kids will get PE credit helping us get wood in late fall/early winter. When I get up at 2 AM to stoke the greenhouse fire, I often can not fall back asleep. These days with the kids schooling at home, I need all the patience I can get. Better sleep outweighed keeping the cucumbers and tomatoes going a little longer and so, the greenhouse was shut down for the year. There is some arugula and radish seeded in there which may or may not do anything depending on how cold October is this year. So now in addition to trays of drying onions and bundles of herbs and flowers, we have pots of peppers and trays of tomatoes finishing ripening. My peppers did badly this year after what looked like a beautiful start this spring. The slugs, regardless of picking them off every day or so, did a number on them. I diced all the small green peppers and froze them. I mourned the lack of jalapeños (slug favorite). And I have resigned myself to sharing our limited space with 5 big pots of ripening cayenne and Hungarian wax peppers.

Eve (can you see her tail?) likes the pepper jungle in the middle of the house.

We have taken a few breaks from school and the farm, for our sanity. I have learned this fall that having a weekend, or at least one day a week, without any school work is necessary for me. I need the break from organizing and overseeing. We drove to Thompson pass on the 6th and picked blueberries for a few hours. The leaves were just coming into peak colors and the drive towards Valdez was spectacular. We did not get more than 3/4 gallon of berries but there was much gallivanting around on the open hillsides. It is good to get away sometimes.

Last Saturday we hit the road again to deliver 160 pounds of carrots to McCarthy locals. After all the carrots were all picked up we spent the afternoon at the toe of the Kennicott Glacier with friends, listening to rocks slide off the ice to crash into the water, throwing rocks in ourselves, and scrambling up at least one hill on the moraine. I don’t spend much time in McCarthy anymore but it was my first home when I moved to Alaska. The day could not have been better. The warm sun shone down on us and the bugs were few and far between. We hardly saw another soul, a rarity in the now extremely popular town. The aspen and willow and birch were at peak color and this year there was a lot of gorgeous orange-red in addition to the many hues of gold in the leaves.

Mixing work with pleasure. A beautiful, calm, and warm day to deliver produce to McCarthy. This view from Chokosna is one of my favorites of Mount Blackburn.

I bought myself a present on Amazon this month. I have been struggling with carrying heavy totes of harvest repeatedly down my long garden rows. When I saw this garden cart in the back of my friend’s pickup in August, I knew I had to have one too. I know it is ecologically unsustainable to use Amazon but still, it feels like a miracle when something you need is delivered to the Post Office and I only have to drive 13 miles, instead of 250 to get it. This gorilla cart measures 22 inches from the outer wheels so theoretically fits down my 24 inch paths. It can hold up to 600 pounds and is not nearly as tippy as my wheelbarrow. I put it together yesterday as soon as we got home from the post office and even though it was time to start dinner, I took it for a test drive and harvested two crates of potatoes. I am in love (and my back is very thankful too).

I have been chipping away at the potato harvest. The voles are hitting it hard and I spent several hours yesterday morning experimenting with processing potatoes to freeze to make use of the pounds of potatoes that are nibbled on one end but still good on the other. I made hash browns by shredding potatoes, blanching them in boiling water for three minutes and then transferring them to ice water. After draining and pressing on a cookie sheet with a dish towel to remove excess water, I divided them into portions and put in the freezer. I also steamed potato chunks for ten to twelve minutes before dunking in ice water and then twirling in the salad spinner for freezer home fries and roasted potatoes. I want to make some frozen steak fries too when I harvest the German Butterball and remaining Kennebec. The potatoes too far gone to use are boiled for the pigs. The good harvest is drying/curing in the back room for a day or so and then will be stored under the house. It is an abundant harvest this year and I hope to have it completely out of the ground this weekend so I can start to work on garden clean up before everything freezes.

The sun is up now and it is time to really start the day. I feel pretty darn lucky to be able to look up from the keyboard and out the window to see the sun striking the mountains.

If I had only been a second sooner taking this picture this morning, I would have caught the trout jumping instead of the splash.

Best wishes from my farm to yours.

First Frost

25°F this morning. A flock of ducks heading south just flew over the lake through the mist that is beginning to lighten as the sun comes up and warms it. The duck water was frozen and I used my heel to open it this morning.

25°F means frozen water

I borrowed a small shovelful of glowing coals from the greenhouse wood stove to jump start a fire in the chilly house. As I drink my scalding hot coffee, I am wondering if the tunnels had enough protection or if I have lost my winter squash harvest. Summer is over and fall is here for a few weeks and then it will be the long winter.

While I am a huge proponent of the idea that life is all about the journey and not the destination, Alaska’s summer are so short and so intense that this time of year I find myself looking back and wondering when I stopped to reflect and just be, or enjoy being. I last wrote a blog post on August 6, one month ago. My computer was being used for 9th grade online classes and homework and I was too busy, too scattered, to sit down and write anyway. I put my head down and worked. And worked. The problem is that when there is so much to do, you will inevitably fail crossing off all the items on the to do lists. I have piles of them on my desk, each day making a plan that was scrapped when something needing immediate attention took precedence. Last week my 13 year old son and I got in an argument about schedules and being organized, prioritizing tasks, and working in a timely manner. Partway through the heated argument (the 13 year old does not want to make a schedule), I realized I could use my own advice. I wrote this August 29 when I had a crazy busy day where I did not accomplish the one goal I had set in the morning. The day was so ridiculous I had to write it down.

August 29, 2020. Todays plan: process previously harvested vegetables that are in totes under the house. I get a text at 8:30 AM: ATV tires are ready. Drive down the road and pick up ATV tires, put them on the atvs, put away all tools, test drive atvs. Put away atvs. Open greenhouse and consider that the slugs are out of control in the greenhouse and perennial garden and think about how the ducks are over due to be moved up here. Ducks have not been let out yet so instead I catch the ducks, stuff them into a cat carrier, bring to perennial garden and fill their water dish. While the irrigation pump is on to fill the duck water and there is plenty of sun on the solar panels it makes sense to quickly water all the outside flower pots. While doing this, I notice that I need to collect seed from the bachelor button, violas, and nasturtium. I proceed to do that. Next, back to processing. There is no room in the freezer behind the shed for more vegetables but it does not make sense to put another freezer back there as the shed is supposed to be painted soon. I put a newly cleaned freezer behind the house and go to fire up the backhoe to use it to scoot the big freezer on pallets away from the shed so I can paint soon and put all the freezers back there. (Because at the time it seems faster to use the backhoe than to empty the freezer to move it. Not so in reality.) The duck house needs to be moved too so I can cross off two chores with one tool. Backhoe needs two tires aired up so I start the generator and hook up the air compressor. Then the battery needs a jump so I use the water truck to do that. Once the hoe is going, I ratchet strap the duck house onto the backhoe bucket and move that up to the perennial garden behind the greenhouse. After the freezer is slid out of the way, it is obvious that the water line running under the shed needs to be moved and there is debris that needs to be scraped away before the pallets will fit behind the shed. It makes sense to do that while the back hoe is already going. I have to get a torch to soften the waterline but it finally comes apart at the now badly placed (due to shed placement when we relocated it this past spring) valve that needs to be replaced with a splice later. I scrape away the debris and then decide to turn the compost while the hoe is still running as that is way over due on the chore list too. Compost gets turned after moving the bear fence that surrounds the old compost, the new compost, and the pig pen. Backhoe is now parked back behind the shed so debris can be shoveled into the bucket. Go inside and check time…6 PM and the kids are hungry. Meatloaf goes in the oven and peeled potatoes in the pot at a slow boil. Conner and I make the final adjustments to the duck house placement, shovel debris into the backhoe bucket and rake the freezer area, and shovel and rake around the compost pile until the meatloaf is ready alarm goes off on my phone. Eat dinner at 8:30 PM.

Not a single vegetable was processed that day.

August in review: I was also too busy in August to jot down my daily few sentences in my journal so the month is a little hazy. My son started his online homeschool classes. We had a few big wind and rain storms. I spent a lot of time working on mechanical items that broke: ATVs, my truck, the irrigation pump. Weeds started to get out of control with all the rain and with my time now divided by harvest for sales and harvest and processing for us (as well as housework, homeschooling, hauling water etc…). Survival mode is the best way to describe August. Do what you can.

A bear came in the night of the 15/16th and pulled grain bags out of the conex.

It took me a while to locate bear slugs for my shotgun and round up bear spray for the kids to carry while they played in the yard. I had gotten lax. We can have bears come through at any time of the spring, summer, and fall but they most often move through our area when traveling from the mountains to the river in the spring and back again in the fall. Somehow I was not on the ball with the fall migration back to the mountains. The next night when the conex door was securely locked (as it had not been the night before), the bear ripped the weather stripping off the doors and then found the compost pile. To keep dogs out, I have an old heavy duty steel homemade hay bale ring with garden fencing tie wired onto it that I fill with plants, salmon carcasses, and bedding. The bear flipped the compost ring up on end and dug through the compost pile which is 15 feet from the pig pen. I am not sure if the pigs were frozen in terror or just slept peacefully through the night but the bear did not discover them. Day 2 of the bear became all about the bear. I moved the electric fence charger down to the pig pen and strung 4 rounds of wire tape around the pig and compost area.

Bear fence

Then I finished attaching electrical fence caps on the garden fence and strung 2 inch wire tape around the top of the garden. (This was a partially started project that was supposed to be finished eons ago to keep out moose and bear).

I finished in the waning light by atv headlight in the rain looking over my shoulder for a bear the entire time. Perhaps it was the paranoia and desire to be safe and warm in the house but somehow I forgot to switch the two game cams on. The bear came in again for a third night during the rain storm and hit the electrical fence by the compost and had a very negative reaction to it. It pestered the neighbors the next night and then moved on. I am very grateful I did not have to shoot it but very irritated that I did not get a picture of it!!!! I do not even know if it was a black bear or a grizzly. We have bear spray on the atvs and in the garden mailbox. The kids have pocket ones that are with them when they are outside. My 44 is always with me and the kids and I went through shotgun safety and have it loaded with bear slugs for a worst case scenario. We got lucky this time and are now well prepared for another encounter. The bear did very little damage, no people or animals were hurt, and we are all, now, on our toes.

Otherwise life is spot weeding, harvesting, and processing the harvest. The garlic was harvested August 9. It is now finishing drying on racks.

We have almost 6 gallons of raspberries in the freezer. And many went right into our bellies.

There are more black currants than we have time to pick.

And many more vegetables have come out of the garden. The beautiful romanesco, cheddar cauliflower, and regular cauliflower did not get their photos taken in the August rush. They are now in residence in the freezer for delicious winter meals.

Food is everywhere in the house, under the house, next to the house. And still in the garden. Here are some small onions that grew slowly in the shade of the cucumbers in the greenhouse, kuri squash, acorn squash, and a New England pie pumpkin.

The sun is up and it is a toasty 45°F outside. Time to go inspect the frost damage.

A stormy last day of August on the lake.

Harvest

I always forget the intensity of August. With my husband working remotely in August and September, all the homestead chores fall on my shoulders: hauling water, vehicle and generator maintenance, occasional grocery shopping at the local store (an hour away). Three of my son’s classes have started and I am overseeing his education this year. In two weeks more classes (all at home this year) will start for both kids. I am responsible for cooking and cleaning or supervising the kids doing these things. I can count on one hand the times we have eaten a meal prepared by someone outside our household since March (yup, 4 times). The last time I remember going to a restaurant was in December when I was in Anchorage with my sister-in-law Christmas shopping. I make an often repeated, and not very funny joke, that I have made all my kids lives when we come inside after a long day and still have to make dinner “let’s order Chinese food.” (The nearest Chinese restaurant is over 120 miles away.)

Cold and damp August mornings

In the garden it is full on harvest season. I am harvesting to make meals we eat each day, harvesting to sell, and harvesting to process food for the winter. Harvest times are determined by when the plants are ready, at peak maturity. Just 12 hours can change a crop from perfect to over mature. Strawberries and raspberries need to be picked daily and frozen or voles or the sparrows eat the ripe ones.

I often plan on harvesting and processing in the same day and then beat myself up mentally when I go to bed with buckets of harvested produce under the house. There are only so many hours in the day. But slowly cases of jars are filling on the pantry shelves of smoked salmon and dilly beans. And bags of broccoli, green beans, napa cabbage, raspberries, and strawberries are in the freezer. The cold and damp nights have started delicate cucumber and beans plants to molding. They will not last much longer. On the other hand, the carrots are just starting.

Lacto fermenting pickles on the counter

The fall flowers are blooming and knowing a frost can happen in the next three weeks or so I try to enjoy them as much as possible. Sunflowers, sweet peas, and snapdragons are my favorite. By the vegetable garden gate, last years snapdragons seeded themselves and I have new flower color combinations. And my scarlet runner beans started blooming this week as well.

The popcorn I started this spring has not had a hot enough summer to produce. They are just leafy stalks, even the three in the greenhouse.

Popcorn plants

I have to do lists everywhere. There is so much to do that I make a new one every morning of what must be done before it becomes a lost cause. I weed when plants are about to burst with seed but don’t have time for maintenance weeding. Other projects have been put on the “fall” list for when I might have more time: finishing the fence, painting the shed, tearing down the old pig pen. Conner and I crimped down the buckwheat covercrop in a spare few moments this week, hopefully in time to keep it from seeding too. Crimping a cover crop in flower should kill it, leaving a layer of mulch on the soil over the winter to protect it.

Crimping the buckwheat covercrop with a board.

And I have to remember to stop and have fun summer moments with the kids whenever possible.

A late night kayak with my daughter with two loons who followed us on our paddle.

It is not a terrible thing to be surrounded by bounty but it can be stressful. I don’t want to waste the food we will need to get us through this winter.

I need to get back to it. A harvest for a McCarthy restaurant is on the top of this mornings to do list.

Till next time, happy gardening!

Transitioning Seasons

I grew up in New England where August was the last lazy month before school started. Hot and muggy days that was perfect for going to the beach to catch a breeze off the Atlantic ocean or reading a book in the shade all day. 20 years after I left Maine, I still have the thought in my head that August is the peak of summer before sliding into a long fall of apple picking and pumpkin filled fields. But in Alaska? The end of July is a transition into fall. The willows and poplars along the road that burst into bright spring green growth in May and then progressed to a deep summer green in June have now faded to a tired greenish brown hue and some, gasp!, are already turning yellow. My mind (even after 18 years of this same schedule of events) is finding it hard to comprehend that though it is not yet August, we are on the cusp of autumn. There are other signs too. The garden is in full production and I need to spend more time processing produce for winter consumption than actual gardening these days. But what really indicates the change in season for us is the mobilizing of our hunting outfit as Tim prepares to head north with the horses for two months of guiding for dall sheep, moose, and bear in the Brooks Range (some 600 miles north of us). He left this week with the horses and while a lot of stress and extra chores left with him, we miss the horses a lot (and Tim too). Sylvia and I rode nearly everyday for the last two weeks to soak up as much horse time as possible.

All eleven hunting horses were at our home for one night before beginning the shuttling process north to the Brooks Range. We have never had them all home at the same time before. It was so much fun!

We were so busy I neglected to write a blog post last week. It seems everyday the to do list gets longer and less gets crossed off. The garden and farm projects took a back seat while we researched and picked curriculum for the upcoming school year. Both kids are homeschooling this year for the first time and it was a steep learning curve to find good fits for two very different kids. Now that their Individual Learning Plans (ILPs) are completed and their curriculum has been ordered I can breathe a sigh of relief that at least we know what our school plan for the year is going to be. In addition to figuring out homeschool, a lot of my mental energy was consumed by Tim’s preparations for the hunting season. It takes a lot of time and planning for him to mobilize all the equipment and horses and we get swept up in the manic energy of it. I have to admit that though we miss him terribly for the two months he is gone, there is a sigh of relief when he finally takes off with the last load and we are left with a simplified agenda: garden, any lingering summer projects, school. It is one less iron in the fire anyway.

Tim brought a ton (40 bags) of Alaskan grown ground barley and crimped oats down from Delta on his way home to pick up the second load of horses. This is the first year I have had good covered storage to keep all the feed I need for the season and allowed us to purchase at bulk prices as well as piggy back on a paid business backhaul. It is a nice secure feeling to have the pig food stockpiled and know that we do not have to travel to purchase feed.

Now that is a “ton” of grain!

Earlier in July I spent some savings from my cancelled trip to France on a silage tarp for the garden that I ordered through the mail since I could not find a source in Alaska. While I am not a big fan of plastic, I am battling a persistent perennial native plant, horsetail, in part of the garden and I needed a tool to knock it back and maybe overtime eradicate it from the growing beds. A silage tarp is a big sheet of 5 mil plastic that is black on one side and white on the other. No light or water can pass through so it starves plants of the two things they need most. The tarp I purchased is 32 feet by 105 feet and you have to secure it with sandbags so I ordered some of those too. The kids and I spent a hot and sunny afternoon filling the sandbags with roadside sand and loading them into our old beat up water truck.

I thought we had 50 but we actually had 100 and after filling and loading 75 bags (with an estimated fifty pounds of sand each) we did a quick tally of weight and realized the poor old half ton truck was terribly overloaded. We drove home VERY slowly.

We laid the silage tarp out when we got home and placed the sandbags on the edges to keep it in place. When all was said and done we moved approximately 6000 pounds of sand in one day (moving the 75 bags twice). I am hoping using this new “tool” will help make garden maintenance easier in the future. We were all pretty sore after this project!

The garden is perking along even without much care these past two weeks other than opening and closing tunnels and turning on the irrigation when needed. The outside beds were treated to some deep watering from several steady rains and everything looks really good. While I do not know if the season will give us enough time for them to mature, the winter squash in the tunnels are growing rapidly.

There are flowers blooming everywhere. Finally we are seeing results from all those flower seeds we started last spring.

I have been digging up native yarrow plants and moving them along the northeast fence line to create a native pollinator border. It is nearly done and while it looks sparse now it should not take more than a year or two for the plants to fill in and provide copious July and August blooms for our native bees. You can also see some of the sweet peas climbing up the garden fence in this photo.

The first year of the yarrow border on the outside of the garden fence. Yarrow is an excellent medicinal herb with internal and external uses and is an excellent pollinator plant for our landscape.

We are happily eating cucumbers every day. I started my first batch of lacto fermented pickles and need to start more.

I harvested some fresh garlic for the pickles. It is not yet ready for harvest for curing for winter storage but perfectly fine for fresh eating or pickling.

Daily chores now include fertilizing the squash, picking peas, picking the green beans, as well as finding and killing slugs in the greenhouse on top of all the other “to dos”. I am hoping since I am aware of the slug problem this year that I can make a real difference on how many survive to maturity and lay eggs for next years crop. Squishing slugs is my least favorite chore but it needs to be done. It is amazing how much damage they do even when they are small. My pepper plants which are already struggling with this chilly year are an especial favorite of the slugs. I wonder if we will get peppers at all this year…I sure hope so.

Unexpectedly this week I received a message with a photo from some Kenny Lake friends who fly to McCarthy frequently. It was a photo of our farmstead from the air! What a treat to see the farm from a different perspective.

The garden looks good from above. Thank you Dee! Photo Credit Dee Wygant

I have a lot of catching up to do this week: weeding, harvesting, fencing. It is time to make sure this bounty of vegetables does not go to waste!

Chores

Feed animals. Water garden. Remove weeds. Harvest and process. Sleep and then repeat. Summer is more than half over here in the north and harvest season has been added to the last of the succession planting and (the ever ongoing) garden maintenance.

Beautiful summer sky

What a funky year! A facebook memory popped up yesterday with a picture of 10 pounds of harvested green beans. Last year we had incredible heat, wildfire smoke, and the strawberry season was nearly over when right now ours is just beginning. (Click here to read about mid July last year and see those green beans, strawberries and more.) This year the beans have just begun flowering.

The zucchini have finally started producing.

Zucchini!

They are delicious but in classic 2020 fashion they are also bizarre. Many of the female flowers are doubles and growing fruit like siamese twins. Some fruit that are supposed to be straight are curved. And one fully formed fruit also had an additional flower about to bloom.

Giving 2020 the middle finger?

In the greenhouse the cucumbers have started producing daily harvests and my son is happy to consume them all as his daily veg (we make him share.)

Cukes, summer squash, and broccoli. Finally the garden has started producing! What a late year…

It might be a pipe dream to hope to finish any winter squash in the garden this year but several pumpkins and kuris have set recently and I will wish for late, late frosts.

Long pie pumpkin babies

The sunflowers and nasturtiums in the ground have languished this year but in the big flower pots they are blooming. It is always a good idea to hedge your bets and have many different growing styles in Alaska (or anywhere really) as you never know what the weather will throw at you.

First sunflower

It has been a good year for native pollinators. While spring blooms have faded, the yarrow, clover, fireweed and more is in full flower. The afternoon air positively hums with bumble bees, hover flies, wasps, hornets, and this week I saw a gorgeous hummingbird moth on the raspberry flowers. Alas no photo though I chased it around for a while trying.

Our latest big addition to the farm is pigs! We chose not to drive to town to get spring pigs due to March lockdowns and with the uncertainty did not think ahead to get on an April or May list. With covid-19, nearly everyone was concerned about their food safety and bought up seeds and livestock and in April and May every piglet was spoken for. So when I had the chance to purchase some late pigs locally, I jumped at the chance.

Tabasco is the red boy and Rose Hip is the smaller girl

I love having pigs here! So far they have settled in well and are busy eating weeds, kitchen scraps, and barley.

We also were gifted a young rooster named Razzle, though I often call him Rascal too. He is a character. The mature hens have not really accepted him and boss him around. He is much quicker and easily keeps out of their way. Raised by kids, he is very friendly and runs up to me every time I show up at the garden, perches on my arm, lets me carry him around, and insists on 4 wheeler rides. Razzle cracks me up!

Yes, he did ride on my thigh from the garden to the house even though I tried to get him to stay at the garden. Silly rooster.

Some animals gained and sadly one duck lost this week. One of our Ancona ducklings died unexpectedly. Fine in the afternoon and gone at bedtime with no external explanation. Sylvia and I buried her in between irises in the perennial garden so her body can give to the blooms that bring all of us joy every year. So it goes on the farm, a daily connection with life and death.

We tried to see the comet Neowise this week and stayed up late several times in the hope the sky would be clear and the night would be dark enough but no luck, yet. At least our sunsets are gorgeous.

And like the horses, I am taking breaks as I can to remember to enjoy this season as it passes by in a blink.

A lazy day. (for the horses)

Summer Snapshot

This time of year it is hard to remember to take a break and just be. There is so much to do that you can discover that weeks have passed by in the blink of an eye. We finally had some hot weather and the kids have been swimming. In fact, there was a mermaid sighting in the lake this week.

Mermaid in Sculpin Lake!

After a very windy beginning of July when I looked up from chores to discover the lake was still, Conner and I seized the opportunity to go for a quick outing.

A beautiful day to go kayaking

Every so often we experience dead calm on the lake and the reflections are magnificent. The lake was extraordinarily clear as well and I spotted 5 rainbow trout over 12 inches long and a small school of small ones only a few inches long darting in and out of sunken branches. The bright sunlight and clear water combined to make some fascinating images of logs disappearing into the depths.

This old log made me think of shipwrecks

Conner wants a submarine to explore the rest of the lake now. I think I am content staying on the surface.

Conner in the canoe

In the garden, 2020 continues with her challenges. It has been a cold spring and with a fair amount of rain showers. I had flea beetle and cutworm pressure early on. And while the garden crops languished in their less than ideal weather, the native and imported weeds flourished. I have been waging a war on weeds lately. Having torn this garden space from virgin Boreal Forest, the clearing has done what all forests do after a catastrophic event. That is, it has attempted to heal itself by first becoming a meadow. Bare soil is hardly natural, at least for long. But bare soil is what I need as I transition this space into a permanent bed system and establish the plants that I want to benefit my family. And so, as weed seeds blow in from cottonwoods and willow, the native willow herb and shepherd purse and non native dandelion and plantain push up and begin to flower and I have been scurrying around removing those about to go to seed. Some can go right into the compost pile. Some go to the chickens. Those are the weeds without rhizomes or a developed seed head. Some weeds go to the horse pen where the horses snuffle through the pile eating the yummy bits and stomp the rest to oblivion. But the persistent horsetail, from the family Equisetaceae, is a menace to the gardener. While it is an amazing plant with an incredible history and unbelievable ability to survive, it takes an enormous amount of time to weed out. And it grows right back. I love it in the woods. And I have made my peace with it living in the perennial garden. But I can not grow and maintain the vegetable garden if it takes me an entire day to weed one 36 inch bed a mere 20 linear feet.

I broke down this week and ordered a silage tarp. A silage tarp is a tool that has been increasing in popularity with market gardeners to prepare new ground, break down and kill covercrops, and create a stale seed bed. It is a thick layer of plastic, white on one side and black on the other, that blocks out any light while maintaining a moist and warm environment underneath. Seeds will germinate and then starve for light. Even persistent weeds can be killed or severely weakened by a season under the tarp. I have resisted using this technique for a few reasons.

1. I am not the biggest fan of plastic and use it as sparingly as possible (greenhouse/tunnel coverings only) in the garden especially in contact with the soil. (Even though I could get earlier warm weather crops by planting through plastic, I just do not like to do it.)

2. It is not cheap to ship a huge chunk of heavy plastic up to Alaska. In fact the shipping price was MORE than the price of the tarp. Sigh.

But I did it anyway. As a one woman weeder (believe me, I have tried every technique known to Moms to get the kids weeding and it never works out), I need this garden to be more efficient. I am not even up to half of the potential in this garden and weed pressure is the number one reason. I will let you know how it goes.

Running a week or two (or three) behind this year, regardless, the garden is starting to produce. The lettuces are beautiful. And I hilled the potatoes with straw. Hopefully the voles who have been absent from the garden so far (thanks to owls and hawks) do not find the excellent habitat I created.

The greenhouse is perking along. It is extra slow as it can not get planted until all the garden starts are out. But it will not be long before we are swimming in cucumbers.

The swallows, warblers, robins, and sparrows have fledged and everyday there are small birds hopping around the yard chirping and flying in bursts as they find their wings. (I have been keeping the cat in as much as possible.) I think this might be my favorite part of summer when I see birds every time I look up.

The garlic has begun putting out scapes which means harvest is only a few weeks away.

And the ducks have moved down to the duck pen at the garden. No more moving them out for the day and into the house for the night.

A bucket of ducks heading inside for the night. Photo Credit S. Tschappat

No more daily duck bedding to clean from the stock tank in the house! (No stock tank in the house!) I planted a green manure mix in this fenced area this spring so the ducks have a forest of greenery to explore and eat.

This is also the time of year that volunteers show up. Sadly, I do not mean hoards of strong young people clamoring to weed with me for free but plants that seeded themselves last year and pop up in unexpected places. Chamomile, calendula, and catnip all seeded happily in the back of the garden last year where they were neglected. (I blame the 10 year old unashamedly for this. All those plants were her entrepreneurial idea with which she did not follow through.) Chamomile and catnip have been forever relegated to the perennial garden where self seeding is not a problem. And the calendula was planted this year right next to the garden gate so I can keep the flowers harvested daily. But unexpectedly a thyme plant survived the winter so I left it and a few catnip to grow where they came up.

Violas have popped up in the lawn, around the peonies, and in the flower pots.

The zucchini are just starting in the low tunnel.

And honeyberrys are turning purple though something keeps eating them before they get ripe.

Past time to figure out bird netting to protect the berries

We are on the cusp of harvest season. I will be weeding like crazy until harvest chores take over!

Alaska Girls Kick Ass

Back in the early 2000s, I had the bumper sticker “Alaska Girls Kick Ass” on my little toyota truck, the second truck I had purchased in two years since moving up to Alaska. Later I also had a sweatshirt declaring the same thing. I wore that article of clothing until it fell apart. I never replaced them and during the time the clothing wore out and the truck was replaced with a vehicle that had a backseat, I became an older woman and a Mom, no longer a girl. But I have a girl, a third generation Alaskan, and boy does she kick ass!

Sylvia has had an interesting spring. She is ten this year and planned to spend a month in New England with her grandparents playing in the Atlantic and going to summer camp. That of course was all cancelled due to Covid-19. Sylvia diligently completed her distance learning in April and May. Her reward for all the hard academic work? A spring and summer at home with lots and lots of homestead chores. She is a pretty good sport about it though.

Mucking out the chicken coop at the end of March in between school lessons

We try to break up the projects and chores with some fun and a few weeks ago we rode the 5 horses that are home for the summer down to our property at Strelna Creek to eat the grass there. Sylvia rode Dixie, who happens to be our biggest horse. At first she was hesitant about the ride. Our horses are pack and trail horses, not reliable old nags. They are good horses but we often bring home the ones who are young, new to us, or need extra work before the guiding season and realistically all horses can be dangerous just from their sheer size. We had a marvelous ride though and Sylvia really enjoyed it.

That is, Sylvia was having a great time until Dixie stepped on her foot when we were picketing the horses before heading home. She yelped in pain and sank to the ground only to pop back up again because she was still under Dixie. Tim and Conner and I secured the horses on their picket ropes and by then she had taken off her boot to find a very bloody sock. Yikes! Back home we discovered that though no bones were broken, Dixie’s shoe had severed Sylvia’s toenail at the nail bed. She was heartbroken at the idea of not being able to walk, swim, or bike without pain. Her summer was “ruined”!

But as I mentioned above, Alaska girls do truly kick ass. Sylvia hobbled around (in soft slippers) with no complaints. In just a few days she was riding her bike (in slippers.) And jumping on the trampoline, barefoot. After she lost the nail completely, she was able to start wearing shoes again and is nearly back to normal activity levels. What a kid!

This week we took Sylvia to the Copper river to go dip netting. We had a rare day where subsistence dip netting was open but personal use fishing was closed so the river was pretty quiet. We took a couple of 4 wheelers down to Hayley Creek where I have not been since before the kids were born and where Sylvia has never been before. Funny how that can happen in your backyard!

Just like the McCarthy Road, the road to Hayley Creek is part of the old railroad bed that used to run from Cordova to Kennecott for the copper mines.

It was a beautiful day without the customary gale that usually sweeps up the Copper River. There was just enough wind to keep the mosquitos off of us.

And Sylvia dipped up her first two salmon.

Proud fisherwoman

Tim got 4, I got 4 and Sylvia got two. It was not a record haul but respectable for an afternoon out.

Not a monster red, but it will be tasty!

And now to process the fish. Some went into the freezer and some into the brine to smoke with alder chips later today.

Brined salmon glazing in the sun to develop a pellicle before smoking

The salmon roe is drying on the garden fence for some future trout fishing.

Who can tell what the summer holds for this young kick ass Alaskan? The sun is shining and it might even be warm out today (even if there is fresh snow on the mountains to the north).

First Copper River Red

I am lucky to have such a great daughter to work with on the homestead, craft with in the slow times, and fish with during the salmon season. Life is not perfect, but this week, it is pretty good.