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Self-Reliance in January

Version: 1.0 | Last Updated: December 23, 2015

As mentioned last month, the fourth season of the year is for the homesteader a season of rest and recovery, and maybe above all a yearning for the return of light and warmth.

In this dark time the sun was at its lowest point and practically lost and gone at northern latitudes. But after the sun at the winter solstice stopped in its track it started rising again. This must have had a deep impression on nature people of old: The sun was returning!

Such was the importance of the return of the sun that, at least in northern Europe, the most important events in a persons life would be placed around the new year, during the first new full moon. Weddings were held, proposals were made, children were baptized.

It’s said that a marriage that was entered during the first full moon had the greatest potential to be lasting, fruitful and successful. This is because the sun was once again rising on the sky, and everything that happened during this rising young sun carried luck with it.

Here are some of the things self-reliant people of days past used to do in january in temperate (four season) climates:

In the forest

  • Around the first new full moon the time is right to chop and bring home the year supply of firewood. All the firewood needed to heat the house, cook food, heat water, and more, should be brought home and stacked to dry now.
  • At the same time, the forest is thinned out and windfelled trees are cleared out and processed into firewood.
  • Timber for new buildings or for repair and maintenance of old buildings should be felled and prepared. Pine and fir is preferred. An old saying goes that you should not fell timber for building material when the wind is blowing south. Rather it should be felled in pleasant and dry weather, because then it becomes more durable and the risk is lower that it’s damaged by pests.
  • Once it starts thawing and the sap starts rising in the trees, they will not be as durable if they’re felled past this point.

Around the homestead

  • If there’s any remaining threshing to be done, January is the time to finish the task.
  • Not as relevant for today, but in the days of old January was a time of purchasing all the things you needed from the city, while you could bring it home on a sled. Herring and salt, clothes, birch bark, nails and other hardware were brought home.

In the house

  • Before the snow disappears, and with it the chance to move things by sled, the firewood needs to be chopped and the timber needs to be debarked.
  • A variety of wooden objects should be manufactured for use in the house and around the homestead, for example ladders, plows, rakes, sieves, baskets, etc.
  • Fire starters should be split from dry wood and and tar wood
  • Fishing nets should be bound and repaired
  • If there are wells and pumps, the latter should be insulated with straw so they don’t freeze. Ice should be chopped away around wells and springs so neither man or beast run the risk of slipping and hurting themselves.
  • Chimneys should be swept.

In the cattle shed

  • Cattle and sheep sheds should be kept warm
  • You can splash the sheep fodder with brine and distribute it sparingly, and give the sheep alder leaf, which is said to be healthy for them.
  • The bull was usually prioritized when it came to feeding the cattle

In the horse stables

  • Also the horse stables were kept warm. Around lunch time, if it was good weather, the horses were released outside for a while.
  • At the end of this month, especially if the horses have been well fed, they start releasing their hair and bangs, and thus need to be tended carefully.

In the chicken coop

  • If you want the hens to start laying eggs any time soon, the chicken coop needs to be kept fairly warm.
  • You can feed them with oats, pees, and fried bread, but go easy on this type of food. If they’re free ranging you don’t have to worry as much about giving them too much feed.

Hunting and fishing

  • If you have a fish pond with no inlet or outlet and it’s a strong winter, then you need to break the ice so the fish doesn’t choke do death from lack of oxygen.
  • Close attention should be paid to wolf and fox pits.