The Homestead at 30 Below

A major test for any farmer is -30°C weather, especially those who live off-grid and are just starting out.  For the last few weeks, the Peace Regions of Alberta and B.C. were under an extreme cold weather advisory.  One trip to the local hardware storm confirmed this; block heaters, heat tape, and space heaters were flying off the shelf!  Block heaters are nice and all, but when you live on an off-grid farm the power has to come from somewhere and the sun doesn’t spend very much time shining this time of year.  We ended up purchasing a super-efficient portable generator that we can use to plug in the vehicles and the tractor when needed.  Problem solved.

The first true test was how the laying hens would do in the cold weather.  While the layers were on pasture in the summer, we built a straw bale chicken house with the intention that they would be cooped up (pun intended) and cozy during the winter.  As seems to be the case when you’re starting out, most projects that aren’t immediately urgent tend to get shelved.  This is why we found ourselves scrambling (another poor egg pun) to build doors and install windows as it began to snow.  Our super insulated design has kept the hens happy and they reward us dozens of eggs a day; except for the time when the ducks figured out how to open the chicken door at -30°C and we came home to dozens of frozen eggs.

image1Like I mentioned before, non-urgent projects seem to get delayed.  This is why, at -32°C we found ourselves extracting honey.  When we collected the frames of capped honey from the bees in the fall, we put them in the cellar so they wouldn’t freeze and crystallize.  Recently, friends and neighbours have been subtly hinting that they’d like honey for their Christmas presents, so the time had come to extract the honey from the frames.  We built a fire in the wood stove we have in our greenhouse and within a couple hours it was +32°C.  It was a surreal experience to be working in a t-shirt knowing that a few millimeters of plastic separates you from 64°C drop in temperature.

One animal that seems oblivious to the plunging temperatures are the sheep.  They come from a long line of Peace Country sheep and have impressive cold weather genetics.  We could have used some of those genetics when we waited in line, at -29°C, for an hour and a half to see July Talk in concert, which was completely worth it.

These extreme cold days have been an adventure for us.  What did we get out of it?  A shiny new generator, 100 kg of honey, and an excellent excuse to stay home and drink egg nog.

Stay warm,

The Homestead


3 thoughts on “The Homestead at 30 Below”

  1. Great first report Donovan.
    Will the bees survive your winter? How many hives/frames gave you 100kg?
    What are your thoughts about a compost pile in the hot house and Egg Chalet over winter? We use a worm composting tower, about 1m diameter, that allows the hens to self feed from the base. A compost system in the hot house will warm things up a bit.
    I look forward to reading more about your journey.
    By the way. It’s around 30 degrees here in Aus!

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