Thursday, August 29, 2013

Its beginning to look a lot like fall

It is beginning to look a lot like fall time around the kennel. The leaves are turning yellow, the temperatures are cooling, and we are getting lots of foggy mornings. There is a lot to do in preparation for our first dog run, which with fingers crossed will be Monday. I am working on the finishing touches of painting the dog box. Here is a sneak peak of how its coming. Thanks to Hanna Marie in Eagle for designing our new logo.

I have also continued with that never ending chore we call fire wood. We are only about a chord away from meeting my goal and I am so excited. The feeling of knowing you have enough fire wood to make it through the winter is a good one. Fire wood to us is like money in the bank. Of course reaching my goal for this winter doesn't mean we are done, it only means that the wood we will be gathering will be for the following winter.

We have already had a few nights that were to chilly for our garden, we have lost all of our food producing plants except for a few of the herbs and one really stubborn lettuce plant. Luckily I predicted the cooler temperatures thanks to a heads up from a friend, and I was able to bring our harvest in before it was to late. My sunflower plant that wasn't looking to hot this spring and given my history of failure with sunflowers is surprisingly thriving. Its in need of being re-potted, but at this point I am not gonna bother, it could succumb to these cold nights at any time. But just the same I am still hoping it blooms. Here is a picture of my hardy sunflower with  Bandit to give you an idea of how massive this previously grim looking plant has  gotten.

I have also been on a quest to fill our freezer with caribou, grouse, and maybe even a black bear. So far I haven't succeeded, but I am going to keep trying. We also have lots of rabbits to add to the freezer this year and the number just keeps growing, we had a nice healthy litter of seven born last night. Here is a picture of me and my friend Hollie caribou hunting in the White mountains.

Excitement is in the air at the kennel and I am not sure who is more excited me or the dogs to be training again. My next post should be about how our first dog run or two went.

Until next time happy trails.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Life at the Homestead Part 2

Today I would like to talk a little about where our food comes from. We currently raise rabbits for meat, hunt, gather berries, fish, and grow a small garden. We are no where near being completely self reliant in the food aspect of our life, but we are working on it. It is my goal to one day only depend on the super market for staples such as flour, salt, and some fruit since we live in Alaska and about the only “fruits” that grow nicely this far north are blueberries, and some other types of berries. I like to harvest from the surrounding wilderness or grow our food because I am not big on the idea of genetically altered foods, or meat pumped full of growth hormones, and vegetables drenched in pesticides and grown in unnatural fertilizers.
I started raising rabbits several years ago with the goal of supplementing our meat supply with a very protein rich, low fat and cholesterol meat. I started out with 3 rabbits and now have roughly 30 in my rabbitry. I chose rabbits over chickens, cows, sheep, and goats because they tolerate cold really well, are a very healthy form of protein, a single breeding pair can produce a lot of little bunnies, and they produce more meat per pound of food you give then than any other “livestock” animal. A rabbits gestation period is only 31 days and rabbits go from birth to butchering size in 8-12 weeks making them efficiently fast producers.
Three 7 week old rabbits eagerly awaiting more food.

We house the rabbits out side in wire hutches built into shepters that provide them with protection from the wind, sun, and predators. Rabbits tolerate cold really well and do just fine in our cold winters I can proudly say that I have never lost a rabbit to the cold, even in temperatures as low as -50f. The only addition we add to the hutches in the winter time is a small rabbit sized ply wood shelter with straw or hay as bedding that protects the rabbits from the wind and allows them to hunker down inside and stay warmer.
A rabbit enjoying his "house"

We feed the rabbits a simple diet of locally grown oats and hay which is supplemented by grasses and leaves in the summer as well as vegetable, fruit and garden scraps when available. I have found one of the rabbit’s favorite foods to be apple cores. We also supply them with salt licks and fresh water in the summer by bottles and in bowls in the winter.
One week old bunnies.

One day old bunnies.

Besides meat the rabbits also provide us with two of what we call useful by-products. The first being beautiful and soft fur pelts for making warm clothing out of. And the second being a high quality manure that is great for the garden and does not require a composting before use like other manures such as horse or chicken. You can just throw the little brown pellets right into your garden when ever.

This year I have a small container garden planted which I hope to expand it into a huge raised bed garden in the near future. Currently I am growing lettuce, tomatoes, green onions, chives and other herbs, peas, pumpkins, broccoli, carrots and a small assortment of flowers. In the record warm summer we have been having my tomatoes, lettuce and other warm weather crops are thriving while my colder weather crops that generally thrive in the cooler Alaskan summers like broccoli are not doing well and instead of producing are bolting and going strait to seed. I have been using a blend of rabbit manure, fishmeal, and alfalfa pellets on my garden this year as fertilizer and the plants seem to be loving it. 
Lettuce and Tomatoes.



Pumpkins and flowers.

With a beautiful harvest of wild blueberries this summer I am finding myself in the berry patch quite often, I have been picking as many as I can around firewood and other homestead chores. These delicious wild treats will be made into jam and other goodies as time allows. The next berry harvest will be high bush and then low bush cranberries…I can hardly wait. The low bush cranberries and blueberries seem to carpet the woods in this area. 

Harvesting Wild Blueberries.

This fall and winter I will be doing some grouse, moose, and caribou hunting to hopefully add some more meat to our freezer. I also hope to do some salmon fishing in the Yukon for chums to help supplement the kennels diet this winter.

Until next time, happy trails.

Life at the Homestead Part 1

It has been brought to my attention that through out my posts I have mainly focused on the team and the trips we go on and the races we run and that people would also like to hear about our unique lifestyle living in a yurt off the grid with a bunch of huskies. So over the next few posts I am going to try to give you a better look at just where the dogs and I live and more importantly how we live.

Our kennel is located about 20 miles north of Fairbanks Alaska on a beautiful forested hillside near the Chatanika River valley. We choose to live “off the grid” or in other terms with out any outside wires coming in. We also do not have any running water or plumbing. Our “restroom” is an out-house which we use year round and at all temperatures warm or cold.

I currently haul all of our water by hand in five-gallon jugs from a nearby spring. We use roughly 15-25 gallons of water a day so this one chore can become quite time consuming. Despite the extra work hauling our water the spring lets us enjoy some of the best tasting cleanest water Alaska has to offer. On the brighter side not having plumbing means that we don’t have to worry about pipes freezing or any of those other pesky problems that plumbing in Alaska often brings.

We don’t live in a “typical Alaskan log cabin,” but instead in a  yurt. A yurt is in other terms a glorified tent in the shape of a circle, which has a wooden frame and fabric skin. Our only source of heat is a wood stove on which I do most if not all of our cooking in the winter time. There is a bit of a learning curve to cooking on the wood stove, but once you get it down it can be quite enjoyable. I’ll post more about wood stove cooking at a later date.

In order to feed the wood stove we need a lot of firewood, I split and stack our wood in the spring and summer so that it can dry for winter time use. Trees naturally have alot moisture in them and it is important to properly dry or season your wood to get the most efficient heat and burn time from it. I plan to have over seven chords of wood split and stacked by the end of August or mid September at the latest, and I am well on my way to reaching that goal.

There are three main types of fire-wood in interior Alaska; Birch, Spruce, and Aspen. Birch and Spruce are the most common, but we use all three. Aspen burns fast and hot and produces a lot of ash in the process which means you have to clean out your wood stove fairly often if not daily while burning this easily obtained wood that grows through out the interior almost as thick as weeds in places. Spruce also burns hot, and relatively quickly, but not as fast as aspen. Birch in my opinion is some of the better firewood out there for keeping your fire burning for a longer period of time. It is a really nice semi hard wood that burns slower than aspen or spruce while still putting off a good amount of heat. We really like to load up the stove with birch at night and when we leave the yurt for longer periods of time during the day such as training runs.

For our electricity our needs are simple and currently met by a gas powered Honda 2000 generator. The generator powers a few lights in the yurt and also charges our laptop computers for us from time to time. We try not to run the generator every day and will often go a day or two between uses in the winter time and some times up to a week in the summer. The generator will power the power tools we need and is small enough to be easily transported around the property to where ever it is needed at the time. One day we hope to add a battery bank to the homestead for energy storage and maybe some solar panels or wind turbines for alternative energy sources. And in order to use the internet I have to find a place in town with Wi-Fi,  and that is the biggest reason these posts are often few and far between.

Well that’s enough for this post. I will post more on gardening, the meat rabbits we raise, and other aspects of the homestead later.

Until next time, happy trails!

Here is a view of our Yurt, this picture was taken in mid April of this year.  
Here is the yurt under construction, note the wood lattice structure.
Getting started on our wood for the winter.

A nice start to what will soon be several large woodpiles in preparation for the coming cold.

Sign up Day

August 3, 2013 marks the first day that mushers can sign up for the 1000 mile International Yukon Quest sled dog race that runs from Fairbanks, Ak To Whitehorse, YT (the races starting and ending points switch places every year, with even numbers always starting in Fairbanks). August 3rd also the first day to sign up for the Yukon Quest 300 that runs from Fairbanks, Ak to Circle, Ak and back to Central, Ak for the finish.

The Yukon Quest office located in down town Fairbanks hosted a lovely little party for the mushers and fans. There were many friendly and familiar faces around the room as returning mushers such as Brent Sass, Mike Ellis, cody Strathe and returning champ Allen Moore along with others signed up for the 2014 Yukon Quest.

I am pleased to announce that my team is officially signed up for the 2014 Yukon Quest 300. Even though it is a ways away we can already feel the excitement here at the kennel as temperatures cool, the days shorten, and training season approaches.

Until next time, Happy trails!

Summer Time at The Kennel

Summers in interior Alaska are always short and extremely busy with preparations for the up coming fall training season and the long cold winter months ahead. This summer we have been enduring some record warm temperatures which are good for the garden, but the extreme heat is rough on the sled dogs who thrive in the cold. To help make the heat more bearable for these arctic dwellers we provide all of the dogs with lots of shade, water, and bones to chew.

The dogs have been having a nice relaxed “off season” this summer spending their days relaxing in the shade and when temperatures allow running loose through the woods around the kennel playfully chasing each other. I have been taking the dogs down to play near and swim in the Chatanika river which flows lazily through the forest a few miles  north of the kennel. They enjoy these outings very much. While sled dogs aren’t usually much for swimming they enjoy splashing through the shallow parts and running on the beaches checking out new scents and feeling the freedom of just being dogs. I am attaching a couple of pictures from one of these outings below to give you a visual of  what takes place in a typical river outing for the dogs.

Even though we are into August fall training hasn’t yet begun with temperatures still in the mid to upper 80’s f in the heat of the day and not much cooler at night. I hope to begin some light four wheeler training within the next few weeks, but we will just have to wait and see what the weather allows.

Until next time, happy trails.