This Month On The Homestead: Planting Season and Rains Of Wrath

If you’re just tuning in, this is a recurring series in which I document each month of our lives out here on our 66-acre Vermont homestead. After leaving urban Cambridge, MA in May 2016 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.

May 2017

Storm clouds over our pond

May was a disjointed month of blistering sun followed by torrential, frigid rains. We were whipped back and forth, in t-shirts one minute and searching for the winter fleeces I’d prematurely packed away the next.

I emptied our front hall mud room of coats and face masks and hats, in a rush for the instruments of spring: the bug spray, the sunscreen, the hats.

No sooner had I laundered these vestiges of winter than the temperatures mandated we scrabble for them again. Such confusion beset us that we finally surrendered to the improbable need of flip flops sat next to muck boots, our mud room a silent testament to May’s mercuriality.

Homestead-a-versary

May marks our one-year homestead anniversary! We moved here last May in a blaze of relocation wonderment. Our entire world was upended as we made the transformation from urban to rural and nearly every detail of our routine changed.

I’ve documented our evolution over the course of the year and I realize that, in many ways, the life I used to lead in the city militated against my true nature. I am happier out here. I am less stressed. I am simpler. There’s less for me to worry about, less to contend with, and much more time and space for me to think and do among our acres of woods.

Monsoon May

Mr. FW and Babywoods plant the garden

Mr. Frugalwoods and I spent the month glued to the windows, noses pressed to the glass, trying to discern whether or not the rain was taking a break at that particular moment. Every time it looked even marginally clear, we’d rush outside and cram in spring-related activities.

Thanks to Mr. FW’s nerdy amazing weather station, I can tell you that we received exactly 5.8 inches of rain last month. This felt like a lot. After the monochrome of winter, these rains ushered in every gradation of green. There are the deep, staid greens of the pines, for whom green is nothing novel, the perky near-neons of the mosses that grow unchecked in our creek beds, the all-American green of Maple tree leaves, the husky, silvery green of apple trees, the renegade, defiant green of weeds, and the pale, graceful green of the birch trees. The landscape stands transmuted into a green mirage.

I don’t mind rain. I like the sound it makes as it pelts our steel roof while we lie in bed, watching it glance off the skylight over our pillows. I like how the earth smells after a good rinsing. I like the cleanliness it leaves in its wake.

Our cherry tree bloomed!

I don’t, however, like to hike in the rain. I’ll do it, I have rain gear, I have waterproof boots, but it’s not particularly high on my list. Snow? No problem! But rain has a way of snaking into the crevices of my neck, coursing down my shirt, and soaking my core. Babywoods and I dashed out on the trail whenever we deemed it safe and only got caught unprepared a time or two, returning home like two crestfallen cats, damp and matted.

The Blooms Of May

Our apple trees bloomed, our plum trees bloomed, our cherry trees bloomed, our daffodils bloomed, and our lilac bushes sprung forth a bounty of purple blossoms.

Our yellow globe flowers made their first appearance and every dandelion on earth sprouted in our yard. As so often happens in life, the drudgery of the rain was not without benefit.

May Is Plantin’ Time

Mr. FW planting in the beds he tilled in our lower field

It is our great, unrelenting aspiration to grow masses of vegetables on our land. Having lived here for exactly one year, this is still very much an aspiration in progress. Last year, we were able to plant a few timid veggies that produced a rather anemic output in response to our novice ministrations.

We stepped things up a level this year in the hopes of coaxing a more robust bounty from our earth. However, we remain neophyte gardeners, beset by mistakes, learning curves, and the endless need to practice more.

Our neighbors are tremendously helpful in advising us–as is the internet and a stream of books we devour–but there is no teacher as powerful as doing. And there is no better way to learn than by immersing oneself in the dirt of life, quite a literal undertaking in this instance.

In May, we planted veggies three ways:

  1. From plants we started from seeds indoors (these are called “starts”).
  2. From seeds we planted directly into the ground outside.
  3. From starts we purchased from our local farmer’s market, a friend, and a local farm stand. These starts were much larger and healthier than ours and they enabled us to round out our retinue of veg.

The Frugalwoods Plant Training Program

Some of our starts getting acclimated on the porch

Since Vermont has a relatively short growing season (aka there’s snow on the ground much of the year), you have to begin growing plants with long maturation time indoors. The reason being that they wouldn’t be able to reach maturity–and bear fruit–in the time that Vermont’s summer provides naturally. And so, back in March, Mr. Frugalwoods dutifully planted tons of bitty seeds in tons of bitty pots and arrayed them on a table in our guest bathroom, a process I discussed in greater depth here.

After painstakingly starting these many wee vegetables from seeds in pots inside our house, May was their graduation month. But before encountering the whims and risks of the great outdoors, these fledging plants needed to go through a training session I call “how to be a successful outdoor plant.”

Their training regime was thus: First, Mr. FW set them outside on the porch for an hour or two every day so they could acclimate to the sun, the wind, and the fresh air. Next, they stayed outside basking all day long. Finally, in their last experience of plant childhood, they had a sleepover on the porch. Now, they were ready to be planted. This process is called “hardening off” and the idea is that it allows tenderfoot plants the opportunity to gradually become accustomed to life outdoors before the shocking transition of being planted into the ground.

Our lower field garden

Their hardening off coursework complete, Mr. FW handed them all their hardiness diplomas and planted them in the ground with plenty of water and fertilizer to ease their transition. Prior to planting, Mr. FW used the tiller on our tractor to turn over the earth and create garden beds. Next, he prepared mounded rows of dirt with a rake and shovel. These mounds are–in theory–designed to better support the growth of vegetables.

Another subset of plants were planted from seed directly into the ground. The hardiness–and growing season–of each crop dictates whether it needs to be started inside or planted directly into the earth. Last, we planted the starts we’d purchased from our more experienced neighbors. We have two garden areas this year: one in the raised beds behind our barn, which was the sum total of our gardening efforts last year, and the second, tilled spot located below our mini apple orchard.

Timing Planting: A Tricky Business

Asparagus harvest from our garden!

Unfortunately, right after Mr. FW carefully planted our entire garden in late May–all the seeds and all the starts–another cold snap descended, accompanied by a deluge of rain. Some rain is OK and some cold is also OK, but we have a sinking feeling that this might’ve been too much cold and too much rain for our still-fragile plants. They look alright at present, but sadly, few of the seeds appear to have germinated, which might mean we’ll reap primarily from the starts.

It’s a tricky business timing when to plant: do it too early and they’ll rot from cold, damp weather; do it too late and they’ll never reach maturity and bear fruit. When to plant is an especially precarious decision for us since we’re located in an odd micro-climate on the top of a hill.

Our growing season is remarkably different from our neighbors who live just 5 minutes away. Plus, there are no weather forecasts that accurately cover our location. We have our own weather station, the data from which will inform future years, but alas, it’s not predictive. We follow the conventional local wisdom of our closest neighbors–those sited up here at 1,900 feet with us–and hope for the best, as every farmer before us has done.

We’re grateful that our survival–and our ability to eat–doesn’t hinge on our ability to grow food. It’s a privileged position that we can buy food and afford to feed our family even if our entire garden is a flop.

Pre-existing Crops

My magic arugula

Fortunately for us idiot gardeners, the previous owners of our property planted a few perennial foods years ago that are still yielding results. Asparagus, rhubarb, apple trees, black raspberries, blackberries, and plum trees give us the chance to harvest food and feel like real farmers.

In an unexpected stroke of horticultural luck, the arugula I planted last summer came back this year! I’ll be honest with you, I had no idea it would do that, but lo, I am eating peppery greens every other day. All hail my magic arugula.

Want More Fotos?!

While I only document homestead life once a month here on the blog, I post photos to Instagram and updates to Facebook with much greater regularity–sometimes daily! Join me there if you want more of our frugal woods.

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Onward to June frugal comrades!

How was May on your own personal homestead?

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49 Responses

  1. I love the sound of the rain from the inside as well. Being outside while it’s raining and getting soaked like a wet dog is not my favorite thing either 🙂 My wife and I tried to plant some flowers and we had similar weather where it was amazing one day and then a cold front came along which killed them.

    May was also a good month for us since we went on vacation before prices got really expensive at the beach. While it wasn’t super warm it was nice enough to walk on the beach and splash around in the hot tub which we thoroughly enjoyed.

  2. Mr. Tako says:

    Great job on the garden FrugalWoods! It’s looking good. We had a little trouble with cold weather this year too. A bunch of our seeds didn’t germinate. Oh well, we simply planted more when the weather warmed up again. It looks like many of the second round germinated.

    Looking forward to garden updates this year!

  3. Carissa says:

    This is our first year growing on our new farm. While it’s much warmer than our last place (gaining an additional month of frost-free days!), we are exposed on a hillside. All the methods that led to successful growth for us before are not working, and we’re having to relearn how to grow. We get so much sin, and unrelenting wind, that our seeds will not germinate unless we plant them and then immediately cover tightly with row cover to hold the moisture in. Doesn’t matter how often we water, they won’t grow well if not covered. (And of course keeping the row cover pinned down in the wind is a challenge as well!) But the learning and figuring out is all part of the challenge!

    Also, re: the arugula, a lot of early spring greens will successfully come back if you allow a few plants to bolt (go to seed) the year before. Try it with arugula, kale, lots of herbs like cilantro and dill (you can get a few successions out of those in one season), even spinach. It’s always a pleasant surprise to find those earliest of volunteer plants the next spring!

  4. Wow your writing is amazing. It’s very descriptive and poetic!

    May weather in DC was also very confusing. In some days, it was scorching hot. But on other days, it was really chilling.

    I’m glad to hear that you are harvesting lots of veggies and fruit. A productive garden is what I’ve been dreaming about for a long time!

  5. Congratulations on one year at the homestead! Mr. Adventure Rich and I have followed your blog for several years and were sitting in California last year thinking “maybe someday, we’ll move back to our dream location and buy a house with property”. Well, we are incredibly fortunate to have been given the opportunity to move back to Michigan and buy a house + 10 acres last October! We are now having fun deciding how we will use our land. I like the idea of a garden for plants and vegetables, though I think we missed the planting window this year. Here in northern Michigan, we also have the challenge of early thaws followed by more snow or freezing temps that can be really harsh on crops. We do have our front fields planted with hay for our neighbor, a cow and pig farmer, who will be providing us with half a pig in return 😉

    What beautiful cherry blossoms! We live next to several cherry orchards and their blooms are some of my favorite! Since we moved in last October, we didn’t really know what our land had to offer until this spring. What a joy it was seeing lilacs, apple blossoms, trilliums, morel mushrooms, poppies, daisies, tulips and wild roses pop up all over our land! The renewed sense of life that spring brings after a cold winter is something I missed while living in California!

    • Carissa says:

      Hi from another northern Michigander! Where are you located? We’re in Honor. It certainly is a challenge gardening/farming in this climate. We purchased our property last year when it was covered in snow, so it has also been a delightful spring for us discovering all the perennial flowers, etc. on the land. I’m jealous of your morels, but at least we have 15 acres of hardwoods just covered in ramps. ☺

      • No way! We are just outside of T.C. on the west side off 72! We often head over to Crystal Lake and my husband works in Benzie County. I just checked out your website, your veggies look delicious! I’ll send you an email shortly!

  6. Ilene says:

    Your standout sentence this post was, concerning life on the land, “I am simpler.” I’ll be thinking about that all day. Isn’t that what we love about young children…their joy in the natural world before they are taught to be consumers? No adult wants to be childish but being child-like is a wonder….and always “simple”! Thank you!

  7. Carol Herbert says:

    Dear Liz,
    Yes May was a challenging month for gardeners…I lost some starts (Eggplant) to the cold. Amazingly my pepper plants still look good….Gardening is fun and challenging. I do not believe you ever stop learning when gardening. Every year I keep a journal which includes the names of all the crops I planted and a diagram of their location. This is helpful so you will not , in error turn over your perennial herbs and greens…..I hope you are growing chives…They come back every year and then blossom! The blossoms are edible also. So pretty in a salad…There is also nothing like harvesting fresh rhubarb and making a rhubarb crisp (yumo)…..Have a fun playing in the dirt!!!!!!!!!

  8. This phrase stood out to me also: ” I am happier out here. I am less stressed. I am simpler. There’s less for me to worry about, less to contend with, and much more time and space for me to think and do.” I love this, and need to balance this against 5 kids, and the things they need to grow into adulthood. It’s a balancing act that I am still struggling with!

  9. Congratulations on one year at the homestead! Sounds like a lot of hard work and fun!

  10. Dayna says:

    You’re doing a great job gardening. If you haven’t already, check out One Yard Revolution on YouTube. It’s all about frugal gardening and extending the growing season. Great tips for growing appropriately in your climate. Also, some ideas for cold hardy crops that will do well even after a light (or heavy frost) – kale, mache (vit or corn salad), claytonia and many more. Happy gardening!

  11. Springtime must feel like a very fulfilling time on the farm when you can go from farm to plate – such an accomplishment! I can’t wait for the time when we are able to grow our own, it’s something I’m becoming more & more determined to do!

  12. Marie-Josée says:

    All hail the magic arugula! Beautiful, and as someone else wrote, poetic post. I love your photos and will peruse your instagram page. March, April, May and early june have been just awful here in Quebec. Grey, rainy and very cold. Everyone runs out when we see the sun. Have a wonderful summer on the farm et bisous à Estelle.

  13. Band3 says:

    Hoorah for the arugula, which is maybe not arugula (Eruca sativa), but perennial wall-rocket (Diplotaxis tenuifolia), which also known as “wild arugula”. The difference between the two is that arugula has white flowers and is an annual plant while “wild arugula” has yellow flowers an is perennial. This means that if it likes the place it actually grows in it is likely to stick that place forever. Well, maybe not forever, but you know…

  14. Jessica says:

    Have you looked into grafting fruit trees to increase your orchard? I went to a seminar and picked up the grafter’s handbook. I plan to try it out next season but you can do it for about $5.00 a tree or less.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Mr. FW took a course on pruning and grafting fruit trees, so we might do grafting in the future. For now though, we are lucky to already have quite a few apple trees on our land!

  15. Great job on the ol’ homestead! It sounds like spring came in quite a hurry, didn’t it? We sort of skipped over spring here in Texas and we’re already “enjoying” 100-degree days. Ugh. But May was a good month. I switched jobs and now have the luxury of working remotely for most of the time. That’s been great for my sanity and productivity, so it’s nice. 🙂

    Our garden has been booming, too! We’re harvesting more tomatoes and cucumbers than we know what to do with. We’ve used the boon to practice our preserving skills. 🙂

  16. I’ve been really getting into gardening. There is something deeply satisfying about being able to grow your own food. You appreciate it more…it tastes better. And it’s a fairly low-cost experiment. Can’t wait to see how it comes along!

  17. Bob. Frugal+as+dirt. says:

    No fence around the garden? Will be interesting to see how that works.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      We have a fence around one of our gardens and no fence around the other, so we’ll see how the un-fenced area works out. Our eventual plan is to run fence around our entire “yard” to protect the gardens as well as our apple trees from munching mammals, but that’s another project for another year :). Last year, we were happily surprised to see that nothing ate our unfenced rhubarb or asparagus!

      • Lindsey says:

        I have grown rhubarb in interior Alaska for 30 years and never had anything eat it—not voles, moose or rabbits. Some years I get so much that I get tired of canning and dehydrating it and wish some animal WOULD eat it!

    • Judith says:

      I too was worried about the lack of a fence. Our garden is like Fort Knox and we still get the occasional squirrel!

  18. Happy Homestead-a-versary!! Yes May can be a difficult-to-predict-the-weather month. Your garden seems to be off to a great start (despite the weather swings). I look forward to hearing more about it as the summer and warm weather progresses. We didn’t plant anything this year, but in years past we’ve had a very small tomato and pepper garden. Two kids made it a bit difficult for us, but that sounds like a bad excuse. You inspire me though, maybe next year!

  19. I’m so jealous of your garden, it looks so beautiful! Can’t wait to see how it develops through the year. I’ve always wanted an allotment – it’s high on my list if I ever settle down!

    And happy homestead-a-versary! 🙂

  20. JD says:

    A lovely post, and I truly enjoyed the School of Hardening Off. I never give our plant starts their diplomas — maybe that’s why some of them fail!
    Our container and raised bed gardening got off to a really good start, but too many days of rain/mist/high humidity (as in, 99% all day long, ick) here in the deep southeast is starting to create some problems. Our blackberries are getting soggy spots and aren’t sweet, and some of our tomatoes are trying to split. Gardening is a sin-free method of gambling, ha, ha.
    The pictures are lovely, and you have a wonderful little gardener growing up with your garden. She will be so much better off for knowing how food is produced, where it comes from, and how fun it is to get your hands (hair, feet, belly button) dirty!

  21. Andy says:

    You’ve done a great job capturing the poetic beauty of nature in this post. Just reading it makes me want to dash off and spend some time beneath a canopy of leaves. Enjoy another wonderful season on your homestead!

  22. Nancy says:

    My parents lived very near where you are in Vermont for several years, and gardened lustily. Many of your experiences are things they encountered when first moving to their Vermont hillside too. Thanks for this walk down memory lane, and may the crops be good! Nothing like fresh Vermont rhubarb, BTW.

  23. Laurie says:

    One year! Wow! Congratulations! We have only planted tomatoes in our garden so far. Our apple trees and blueberry bushes are blooming like crazy though so I hope they produce!!! Hope this month continues to be drier and warmer– although not too warm! 🙂 We’ve been living in the basement lately with the 99 degree weather!

  24. Mrs. BITA says:

    Congratulations on completing one year on the land. I love the rains too, and one of the things I miss the most about my home, India, is the start of the monsoons after a long, hot, dusty summer. The feeble rains of California are nothing to the majesty of the monsoon back home. Our lemon and orange trees are still producing fruit, as they do all year around. Tiny green apples adorn our apple trees, and our grapefruit tree is still gravely putting forth one fruit a month.

  25. Kathy says:

    We never change over the wardrobe from Winter to Summer until after Memorial Day in the Colorado frontrange mountains. This May, we received our last blast of snow, 3 feet on May 18 and 19. At 9000 feet and on a hillside, we don’t have a vegetable garden. A few of the neighbors have greenhouses for growing veggies. Fortunately, all of the small towns within a 40 minute drive hold bountiful Farmers Markets during the summer.

  26. Agreed! Hiking is great, hiking in the rain not so great. Growing food in the northeast sounds challenging, your post made me realize I have been under appreciating how easy it is to garden here California. Thanks for keeping us updated, love to hear about your homestead adventures!

  27. Emiko says:

    Your description of the different shades of green is truly beautiful. I lived in Vermont for 2 years (now I live in Colorado) and I miss the green. We are moving back to the east coast in September and seeing your Instagram photos makes me excited for more rain, more green and more trees. Good luck with the veggies!

  28. Pam says:

    I love your writing! I laughed out loud reading about your school of hardening off veggies! I planted alot more flowers here in Kentucky. What a riot of colors! Unfortunately I fell and broke my wrist and that is hampering my gardening. Interesting note: It sure hurts more falling down then when I was a kid! Just don’t get discouraged sometimes we learn even more from our mistakes.

  29. Margie says:

    This post was a lot more descriptive of your environment than some of your more factual, nuts and bolts frugality post. I liked it. Showed your skill as a writer.

  30. Rae says:

    I love the way you express yourself! It’s always a delight and informative to read your postings.

  31. Wow, it’s been a year already! Happy Homestead-a-versary. This may was our Amery-versary – 4 years since we moved to America. Yay!!

    Do you have plans to use the seeds from your garden for the next year?

  32. Congrats! Glad to hear you aren’t getting too discouraged by the trial-and-error of gardening/homesteading. I’ve been working on our urban homestead for about five years now and while things get easier as you get more experience, weather always seems to mess up the best laid plans. We live in northern Minnesota (zone 4) that also has a very short growing season. My husband got me a small greenhouse that has been helpful to give my plants a boost in the spring (assuming the sun comes out occasionally). I also plan to use cold frames – something I have been intrigued by for years but am just finally getting around to building.

    We welcomed honey bees to our homestead this May and they are endlessly entertaining. I love watching them come and go from the hive! It’s also fun to spot them around the yard and on flowers. I was nervous about the responsibility of tending to several thousand bees, but with some help from more experienced bee keepers (and lots of books), it’s been a great addition to our homestead.

  33. Mrs. Kiwi says:

    Another great post! This is my fourth season gardening and each year I’ve improved by leaps and bounds. I agree, it is best to learn by trying and celebrate the small victories.

  34. The property looks beautiful! We planted our garden over a month ago here in the midwest. I wish I could fit a few fruit trees in our yard but it is a small urban yard and i have been informed by the fiance that our great dane needs all the space she can get.

  35. Wow, asparagus from your own garden. How special! No matter how much money is in the bank, I think it’s hard not to feel rich when you have wonderful food and the health and love of a little family 🙂

  36. LadyFIRE says:

    A year down! I remember you promised not to get any animals in the first year. Now it’s the second you can look into getting some hens 😀

  37. I can relate to the rains of wrath. My garden took a beating from flood like rain and a little bit of hail for good measure, and half of it didn’t survive. 🙁

    To be fair, I don’t have the greenest thumb. But I’m blaming it on the rain either way. 🙂

  38. Marie-Eve says:

    We just bought our first house and no experience with vegetable gardening, so I can’t provide first-hand advice. However, I remember watching the video below and thought the tips were worth a try. The lady lives in Newfoundland, Canada where they have a VERY short growing season and unpredictable weather. She uses perennial plants from her area as indicators for planting food crops. She basically created a guide describing when to plant certain foods depending on which plants are blooming. Sounds very interesting, and I would be curious to know if anyone has tried it out!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HrpHtJZEvIw

  39. Whoo hoo! Congratulations on completing your first year. My parents recently planted some 300 trees around their property and have started a raspberry patch. It may sound a little odd but Mom says the best ways to help them grow is to talk to them and tell them to grow deep and strong. I guess it doesn’t hurt right? She also found that buying planting soil by the yard is the only way to go. She filled the back of the pickup for $40 compared to $15 per 10lb bag of the same special soil.

  40. Cheryl says:

    I love hearing about your gardening adventure, and what luck you had some plants to harvest right away! Really gives some incentive to work towards next season. The starting and hardening off of the seedlings seems like a great process for Babywoods to watch and learn about where her food comes from 🙂

  41. I do enjoy living in the city for several reasons, but when we’ll become home owners, we’ll definitely be moving to or at least close to a rural area! I’m obsessed with the idea of growing my own vegetables and my boyfriend loves nature so much, he’d move to a rural area in a heartbeat! Until then, I’ll keep growing few spices in a flowerpot. It’s better than nothing, I guess 😀

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