This Month On The Homestead: Early Apples and Late Summer
If you’re just tuning in, this is a new series in which I plan to document each month of our lives out here on our 66-acre Vermont homestead. After leaving urban Cambridge, MA in May to chart this wholly different life, we’re experiencing a constant learning curve of exploration (and plenty of stupid novice moments). Check out last month’s installment here.
August flew by in a flourish of ripening crops, visiting friends, and a much more mobile Babywoods. From our incredibly novice observations, it appears August just might be our last month of true, hot summer. As September loomed, a few precocious leaves tinged themselves with yellow and orange. Nicely done, leaves.
Land In Transition
As summer waxed on, it was easy to assume we’d reap its bounty forever. Our former cubicle-populated, city-dwelling life was radically divorced from seasonal fluctuations. Each month was pretty much like the last, with either the addition or subtraction of a turtleneck. Maybe a pumpkin spice latte too (although, to be fair, I’ll drink those anytime… ).
Conversely, here on the homestead we’re blasted with the minutiae of each season’s predilections. Our flowers, which felt like a permanent element of life, dropped off this month. We still have a few errant daisies blooming, but most other flowers are finished for the year. Just like that, they’re dormant. Mr. Frugalwoods and I are so accustomed to the falsehood of perpetual grocery store freshness that it’s a new experience to witness the ephemeral progress of real live plants.
This quick march into fall is another reminder of the importance of being present. Of relishing the unique offerings of each month. In fact, it’s more granular than that because each week heralds change. I used to think of “summer” as a singular season, but that glosses over the unique variations week to week.
When we moved here in May, for example, I was pleasantly inundated with rhubarb–little did I know then just how swift its growing season would be. It seems odd to me that I was so overwhelmed with the ‘barb at the time, because now I realize it was a brief window of abundance. And that holds true for each crop–we’ve been graced with asparagus, gorgeous flowers, black raspberries, and more. But each appearance is fleeting.
Harbingers Of Fall
I’m particularly attuned to the early indicators of fall because I’m a certified lover of fall. It is, by far, my favorite season and I watch for each harbinger with the keen senses of someone who thrives on crunchy leaves, ripe pumpkins, cornstalk decor, and all things Halloween. Thanksgiving is pretty good too.
I don’t bemoan the passing of summer. In fact, I’m not really a summer person. It’s nice, I’ll grant you, but it overwhelms me. It’s so flashy and fresh and sassy. Summer is like, “BAM, look at this flower! BAM here are some tomatoes! BAM the sun is shining on you!” All this abundance is difficult to process. I’m more of a muted, wintertime person. I like stark trees. And the coziness of being inside while snowstorms rage.
Therefore, I can say that I spent half of August outside doing farm-type things (gardening, picking berries, hiking) and the other half of August inside the house doing stupid things like vacuuming, clipping Babywoods’ nails (there should be an award for that… ), hoping for autumn and generally feeling guilty that I wasn’t outside doing more farm-type things. I am still figuring out the balance of my time here. In fact, I just moved onto the porch to write in an effort to assuage my guilt. Now I am being menaced by wasps. Don’t they die when it freezes? I’m all for that.
Mr. FW and I don’t like to be bored. And we don’t like to pay for entertainment. Well, it appears we moved to the right place. There’s an endless sprawl of ideas, projects, and possibilities out here.
Every day one of us says to the other, “you know what we should do… ” followed by something like: circumnavigate our property with hiking trails/repair the bridge to our pond/make blackberry jam/take videos of Frugal Hound sniffing out moose tracks.
Or, in the instance of Mr. FW the other week: build a fire pit! And so, we are now the proud owners of a rustic fire pit. I’m calling it “rustic” because it’s just a hole Mr. FW dug in the ground where he now makes fires. He’s going to add a stone border to fancy it up. But until then, it serves its purpose in a very literal sense.
Turns out, one of our apple trees contains an early ripening variety: Red Duchess (see? so flashy!). We discovered this through the scientific examination of eating one of the apples. Tasted ripe! Thus, we now harvest apples every few days using our improbable-looking, yet effective, fruit pickers.
The fruit picker (pictured at right) is a hooked basket affixed to a pole (we used a broom handle for one and our pole saw handle for the other) that you maneuver over a ripe apple and use to gently tug said apple into the basket–which is conveniently padded for fruit comfort. This is one of those ‘right tools for the job’ that I had no idea existed prior to, oh, last month.
We didn’t realize we’d have an apple crop in August. Based on trite Rockwellian Americana, we were thinking more like late September/October, so our first harvest caught us unprepared since we lack the ability/fortitude to each eat 10 apples a day. Fortunately, we have a root cellar! Google revealed that apples can, in fact, be happily stored in a root cellar. Red Duchess apples, however, do not keep for long.
Faced with a stack-o-apples, we tossed around ideas for processing (aka we started Googling like mad). A few considerations: applesauce (but, labor intensive and none of us are too keen on the taste), apple jam (tasty, but labor intensive and not all that healthy), apple butter (received a yes vote, so hopefully we’ll do that in the future), hard cider (an enthusiastic yes, but, we don’t have enough ripe apples right now to process into cider).
We puzzled (by which I mean Googled) some more until we landed on dehydrated apples. Minimally labor-intensive and totally healthy. Win! I went on a frenetic search for a used dehydrator and then on an email flurry to try and borrow from a neighbor and then called a million* local stores to see if they carry dehydrators. As you might’ve guessed, I failed on all fronts.
And so, I went to my city-person stand by: Amazon. We purchased this dehydrator in a hurry (we were on a time limit here with ripe apples impatiently chillin’ in the root cellar) along with some extra trays. Lucky for us, I pulled an apple peeler/corer out of the trash a few years ago in longterm anticipation of this day. Lo and behold, its time had arrived!
In case anyone is wondering, this is exhibit #1 of why I’m not a minimalist: a minimalist would not keep a trash-find apple peeler/corer in their basement for two years before using it. But hey! Another right tool for the job that makes it tenable to process a ton of apples in one’s kitchen. I can report that the dehydrated apples are delicious and are now stowed in our chest freezer for consumption on oatmeal this winter along with…
*ok that’s misleading since we have two local stores, but I called them both. Well, one of them didn’t answer the phone so I went there in the flesh.
I didn’t know it was possible for one family to have so many blackberry bushes. The volume of our blackberry patch is part absurd, part amazing. I posit that the previous owners planted a reasonable, sane number of bushes, which subsequently over-populated themselves in a rabbit-like fit of blackberry apocalypse. Not that I’m complaining; blackberries are divine.
I get out there and pick as often as possible (and then freeze them by the gallon), but I can’t keep up with the deluge. I’ve invited just about everyone I know to also come pick berries, but they are all similarly deluged with their own berry overpopulation situation. I think it’s a bumper blackberry year.
If I had unfettered time (hah!!!) I’d pick them all and donate/give them away to friends. But alas, my time is limited and I can’t pick them while wearing Babywoods on account of the thorn situation and her proclivity for grabbing and mouthing everything remotely within her reach… although we do employ the ‘waterless baby pool’ containment tactic for some outdoor chores.
Since I loathe food waste with a visceral passion, it’s painful for me to know there are unpicked blackberries lying fallow. But I’m comforted by the knowledge that our woodland creatures enjoy munching on them. Between the dropped apples and the blackberries, the neighborhood animals are eating well this summer. And I know we have critters thanks to our…
We added to our collection of creature mug shots this month via our strategically placed wildlife cam. Ok, it’s actually not strategic at all, it’s just strapped to a tree. As many of you know, our previous cam captures were some not-so-noteworthy images of our own legs and Frugal Hound’s butt (thanks, FH).
But August yielded: a fox!, deer, a possum, raccoons, one feral cat, and a particularly memorable pic of a coyote–uh–taking care of business right in front of our camera. How rude. Photographic evidence of coyote rudeness at right.
In addition to these adorable little woodland mammals (plus random cat), we were gifted with a glimpse of one of our more elusive beasts of the forest: the rump of a black bear. Not the front end, naturally, but a delightful view of a sizable rump. Oh happy day for us wildlife-obsessed city people.
Along with these friends of the forest, we had quite a few human friends visit us this month. I adore hosting people and I also love sharing our new life, so all these visitors were a boon.
We had a steady stream of folks grace our guest room when we lived in Cambridge, mostly because Boston is a frequent destination for vacation and work travel. I worried that our visitors would drop off once we moved out here to the sticks, but as it turns out, Vermont is a common destination for weddings and vacations! Thanks to our state’s tourism draw, we’ve had no less than nine separate groups of out-of-town visitors this summer, including fellow financial blogger JL Collins, Mrs. JL Collins, and dog JL Collins.
One of my dearest friends came all the way from Washington state and, since she was here for several days, I dragooned her into picking blackberries and harvesting apples. I’m trying to play up the whole agritourism angle of coming to visit us, so if you plan a trip, be forewarned.
Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
Our garden forges ahead with relative health despite being beset by the Michelin Man of caterpillars: the tobacco hornworm. This Seussian lime green menace munched its way through many a Brussels sprout and tomato leaf before our sophisticated eradication efforts commenced (aka Mr. FW plucking and, uh, doing away with their carcasses). As a result, I think the Brussels sprouts might be goners–they look pretty darn poorly.
Despite this vile interloper, we still managed to harvest a few tomatoes and plenty of salad greens. And our herbs–basil, oregano, rosemary, and sage–continue to flourish. This first year, we decided that absolutely anything we managed to grow would be declared a Victory, so we’re not too disheartened.
I’m glad we put in the labor to clear out and plant in our raised beds. Plus, our squash is looking downright state fair worthy (as long as it’s a very small, very lenient state fair). I consider this first gardening foray to be more experiment than success. We can only improve next year, right?!
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Onward to September, frugal comrades!