This Month On The Homestead: Hard Cider, Apple Tree Pruning, and a Baby!

February 2018

Patches of grass made themselves known this month as snow receded by degrees, not unlike ocean waves. A sunny day would initiate a melt, with grass and mud gradually reclaiming territory, biting away at the uneven edges of ice and slush. The next day, snow would mount a resistance, falling determinedly for a few hours, only to succumb to sun the next day. And so on went the month, leaving us in an uncertain state on February 28th, with muddy patches competing for attention while snow remained the dominant ground cover. But spring is decidedly on the horizon as several days passed with no need for us to build a fire in the woodstove. Soon, the snow will lose its losing battle.

Snowy, snowy February on the homestead

Of course the most notable event this month was the birth of our second daughter, Littlewoods (don’t worry, that’s not her real name, I swear). We’ve been in semi-hibernation, adjusting to life as a little family of four. I say “semi-hibernation” because the month was interspersed with a great deal of hubbub around the publication of my first book–Meet the Frugalwoods: Achieving Financial Independence Through Simple Living–on March 6th. An interesting thing to birth both baby and book within just a few weeks of each other. Not perhaps something I’d advise doing, exactly, but it certainly made for an eventful time of our lives. Thankfully, my in-laws came to help us out for the month, for which we are deeply grateful. We wouldn’t have survived without them!

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 and enjoy the best and worst (ok, mostly the worst) moments of our first year on the homestead here. Wondering if it’s less expensive to live rurally? Check out: City vs. Country: Which Is Cheaper? The Ultimate Cost Of Living Showdown.


Littlewoods + Bookwoods

A close second to the baby and book events of February was bringing our homemade hard apple cider to fruition at long last! You may recall the earlier steps in this process–namely picking the apples, pressing the apples, and fermenting the cider–and this month wrought the final installment. Making your own apple cider from your own apples is super simple and takes no time at all (said no one ever).

Here’s a quick recap of the process thus far:

  1. Buy a homestead with mature apple trees.
  2. Realize those trees are WAY overgrown and in need of serious pruning.
  3. Take a class on apple tree pruning. Read a book on apple tree pruning.
  4. Prune the trees. Realize you still have no idea what you’re doing.
  5. Take another workshop on apple tree pruning.
  6. Prune apple trees with increased confidence. Reap rewards.
  7. Realize trees are infested with bug/parasite problem.
  8. Apply organic compounds to mitigate bug/parasite situation.
  9. Allow time to pass.
  10. Wonder if trees are dead?
  11. See blossoms in spring. Rejoice.
  12. Observe apples growing.
  13. Observe herd of deer munching on the literal low-hanging fruit (rude).
  14. Chase deer away, while in pajamas, bellowing “Run for your lives, deer!”
  15. Resume tending to trees.
  16. Observe flock of turkeys jumping up into apple trees to eat apples (rude).
  17. Babywoods assists with apple picking (more like takes 1 bite out of every apple… )

    Chase away turkeys, wearing your pajamas, while yelling “Thanksgiving!!!!!!” at top of lungs. Point out the millions of wild apple trees in woods where turkeys could dine instead.

  18. Be grateful you have no neighbors in sight.
  19. Set out to harvest apples in fall.
  20. Realize the trees have done very well and there are now approximately 9,987 apples to harvest.
  21. Learn that picking apples is glorious for the first few hours. Takes a long time after that.
  22. Purchase fruit pickers after realizing many/most apples are too high to reach with human arms alone.
  23. Enlist toddler to held in carting picked apples to the apple collection bucket.
  24. Realize 20 minutes later that toddler is taking a solitary bite out of every single apple.
  25. Resign self to chewed-on apples.
  26. Cart buckets and bins of apples onto porch and into house.
  27. Realize that a full bucket of apples weighs A LOT. Like, seriously, a lot.
  28. Divide up apples for the following processing purposes:
    1. Eat as is! Yum.
    2. Make dried apples in dehydrator
    3. Make apple butter
    4. Make hard apple cider

The cider press in action this fall with the kids exuberantly dunking themselves into the apple bucket

To make hard apple cider:

  1. Purchase a cider press (after spending a year and a half trying to find one used to no avail).
  2. Spend 2 hours assembling cider press.
  3. Realize part of cider press is installed upside down. Ask wife not to take photos of this for the blog, please.
  4. Take press apart and re-assemble.
  5. Con some friends from the city into coming up to homestead for “weekend of fall fun,” by which you mean forced apple harvesting and cider pressing labor. They loved it (we think). Although they haven’t been back…
  6. Spend a delightful two days sorting apples, washing apples, and loading apples into the grinder and press.
  7. Grind apples into apple mash.
  8. Press apple mash into cider.
  9. Attempt to keep toddler out of stainless steel apple bath. Fail. Resign self to soaking wet toddler and more chewed-on apples.
  10. Transfer cider into glass carboys (purchased used from Craigslist).
  11. Add yeast (see yeast notes below).
  12. Allow to ferment for three to six months.
  13. Buy more cider equipment.
  14. Remove cider and taste test (see tasting notes below).
  15. Rejoice that does not taste terrible. Tastes good, actually! Pat self on back.
  16. Purchase a used keg, regulator, and tubing to hold finished hard cider.
  17. Purchase C02 canister to add fizz to hard cider.
  18. Sanitize keg using Star San solution.
  19. Transfer cider into keg.
  20. Wait longer.
  21. Tap keg and imbibe!!!!

Mr. FW sanitizing our second-hand keg and getting it ready to hook up to the C02

And it is truly delicious!!! As this was our first foray into hard cider making, we had no idea how it would turn out or if it would be even remotely palatable. The fact that it is genuinely delicious is downright thrilling. As Babywoods would say, “Hooray!!”

Mr. Frugalwoods employed three different yeast strains, in three different carboys, in order to test out which we like best. Here are our tasting notes on each:

  1. In the first carboy, Mr. FW added yeast immediately (called “pitching the yeast”). For this batch, he used Safcider yeast. Tasting notes: sour; lighter and sweeter than the others.
  2. In the second and third carboys, Mr. FW first added campden tablets to kill the natural yeast, waited 48 hours, and then pitched the yeasts. For the second batch, he used Danstar Belle Saison dry yeast (owning to my enduring love of farmhouse Saisons). Tasting notes: funky, yeasty, delicious. Tastes similar to a saison beer. Our favorite!
  3. In the third batch, he added Wyeast 4766 Cider yeast. Tasting notes: most alcoholic-tasting, sharpest, driest.

Since we concurred that the saison dry yeast batch tasted the best, Mr. FW went ahead and kegged that batch first. We tapped it this past weekend and it is truly delicious! This cider tasted good even without the carbonation, but we both prefer it fizzy and so are glad we took the extra step of adding C02. So far we’ve forced encouraged four other people to taste it and they’ve concurred that it’s delicious (although what were they going to say as we stood there with huge grins, am I right?).

All in all, our first hard cider-making adventure totally worked and we are definitely doing it again next year! The only potential problem is that we now have 9 gallons of hard cider in our basement! Luckily it keeps for a long time and we’re planning on taking it to parties and perhaps hosting our very own cider-drinkin’ fest sometime this spring/summer/whenever we can get organized post-baby… If you live nearby, just stop over sometime for a pint of cider to help us work through this supply!

Apple Tree Pruning

Pruned apple trees! Note the 1,000 footprints around the trees and the pile of pruned branches

In a perfect illustration of the ongoing cycle of growth, Mr. FW pruned our apple trees this month as they must be pruned before blossoms start to sprout. Fruit trees need to be pruned annually in order to ensure they’re healthy and producing their highest yield. Too many branches, branches that overlap, trees that grow too tall, and more are all examples of thwarted growth.

You want your apple trees to grow in a sort of low bowl shape such that you could throw your hat through the middle of the tree. This ensures that the tree gets enough light and that you’re able to more easily pick the fruit. You want a tree to put energy into growing fruit, not into growing tall or long branches. Since these trees were in a state of neglect when we bought our property, Mr. FW has had them on a several years-long improvement plan. It’s not wise to prune away everything in one year as it’ll shock the tree and potentially kill it. Thus, you’ve got to prune a little bit each year in pursuit of the ideal tree shape and size. We have ten apple trees in our yard and great clumps of them in our woods. Mr. FW focused his pruning efforts on the trees in our immediate yard and, time permitting in March, will turn his attention to some of the wilder trees ringing our woods.

Apples in their rinsing bucket

Maintaining, and improving upon, our little apple orchard is a major goal and focus for us as we adore these trees and the fruit they yield. It’s no small feat keeping them in good health–and then processing the apples–but it’s a worthy endeavor that we (mostly) derive great pleasure from. I think our apple tress might, at this point, represent our greatest homesteading success since we’ve managed to: 1) not kill them; 2) improve their health dramatically; 3) harvest larger quantities of apples each year; 4) find effective ways to use all of the fruit. I’m quite proud of us and our apple trees! We hope to enjoy many more decades together. If we can keep the turkeys out of the branches. Fingers crossed.

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–usually daily! Join me there if you want more of our frugal woods.

And if you want to make sure you don’t miss a post here, sign-up for our handy dandy email list in the box below. You’ll get a message from me if you do…

Onward to March, frugal comrades!

P.S. I wrote a book and there’s still time to get a free signed bookplate if you order a book by March 13th and email your receipt to Details here. If you’ve already read the book, I would really appreciate it if you’d consider leaving a review on Amazon! Many thanks for your support!

P.P.S We were on the PBS NewsHour last night! You can watch the segment here.

How was February on your own personal homestead?

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56 Responses

  1. You guys got hit with that Noreaster, I’m jealous! All we got down here from it in DC was high winds and power outages!

  2. Mrs. Kiwi says:

    We run into the same problem of having copious amounts of beverage around (for us it is home brewed beer). We love the making it process, but aren’t big drinkers. But it means we get to frugally bring growlers of beer to parties (or kegs) and share with all of our visitors!
    Glad the cider turned out great! In 2018 we are hoping to make our first batch!

  3. Congratulations on the most important even of your month: The birth of your very cute second daughter!

  4. “while yelling “Thanksgiving!!!!!!” at top of lungs. ”

    LOL! Did they teach that in the apple pruning classes?! Oh my God I want to see wild turkeys just to scream that. Hilarious.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Definitely part of the pruning class 😉

    • Meeshiedee says:

      Too funny!! b/f is friends with our wild turkeys they eat out of his hand so I don’t think yelling “Thanksgiving“ would even phase them..I think there Street smart turkeys too the dogs barking doesn’t even scare them away lol

  5. Finished your “first” book yesterday. Loved it. When can we expect the next one?! 🙂 My fear that reading your book would rekindle my thoughts of moving to VT was well-founded. Thinking again about the pros and cons.

    Congratulations on the birth of Littlewoods! She is darling.

    In addition to the nicely pruned apple trees I also like that shapely wood pile in the background. Well done Mr. FW.

    We made hard cider one year but the running around outside in pajamas step took place after drinking it.

  6. JD says:

    I love “soft” cider, and I suspect I would love hard cider, the real stuff, I mean, not the oddly flavored things I keep seeing in the stores. I might have to make a trip to Vermont to stop by for a keg, er, pint.
    Congratulations on Littlewoods (Happy and healthy, right? I can tell the cute part without asking.), the book, and another year of learnin’ on the farm!

  7. This is awesome! That stepwise list had me in stitches! I especially appreciated Mr. Frugalwoods’ dedication to testing out different yeasts.


  8. Andy says:

    Really enjoyed the PBS interview and some of the various other interviews you did for the book. You guys continue to be a great inspiration and I’m looking forward to reading the book!

    Have those solar panels always been on the barn? Did I miss that in a prior update?

  9. Your property is so beautiful in the snow. I don’t much care for cold weather, but would love to sit inside by a nice fire with a cup of hot chocolate and gaze out upon that snowy expanse. And watching the wildlife must be pretty cool, except when that wildlife is trying to steal your beloved apples for which you worked so hard!

  10. Great idea to try out the different yeasts. I might borrow that for beer brewing!

    I absolutely love how gratifying it is to start with your own raw ingredients, put in some work and TLC, and end up with a finished product. With the rise of white collar office jobs, I think most of us are missing that experience in our life. I think it’s great to look for opportunities to just create something – anything.

  11. Carol says:

    Littlewoods looks amazingly mature for one so young. Maybe wondering about her book companions on the blanket, planning to write one from her perspective, or pondering the sharing of attention. Clearly a well rounded family with much expertise, as well as love and caring.
    My belated wishes for comfort on the loss of Frugal Hound, who had a good life with her family. Perhaps she is helping to watch over Littlewoods in spirit.
    Enjoy the cidering adventure, along with your others, and good rest to you all when you can get it!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you so much! I think she wasn’t too sure about those books, seeing as they nearly outsized her 🙂

  12. Tango says:

    Always enjoy the peek into your lives! Solar panels?! I don’t remember hearing about those. Did you install them or did they come with the property? I’d love to learn more, it’s on my dream list.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      I am remiss and delayed in writing a post on our solar panels, which are a recent addition :). Coming soon, I promise!

      • Melonie K. says:

        I was wondering about the solar panels too! Can’t wait to read about those. 😀

        Congratulations on the new babies – both human and book. I recommended your book to three different libraries we use and was insanely excited when I got the notice that one of them purchased it. Since I suggested it, I got first dibs. WOOT! Nicely done – very enjoyable! I devoured it yesterday.

  13. Barbi K. says:

    Congratulations on your newest bundle of joy! Babies are such wonderful gifts. Your apple story saga was hilarious! When we had a big apple tree I used to make homemade apple sauce and homemade pie filling to freeze away and we loved it. Now on our new property we are just getting our apple trees started. Good luck and I hope she is a good sleeper.

  14. yvonne west says:

    I’m 82 and went back to the land from London to the South of France in 1975. My partner and I bought a 13th century tower of a castle classified as a hovel. We fell into beekeeping almost by accident and ended having 300-odd hives & being prizewinning organic producers. My partner & I separated & I bought half the business and the building and land. I finally retired at 75 & more or less finished making my house comfortable & easy to run. I’m a fan of the Little House on the Prairie Books and see you as modern day equivalents so I love reading about you. I wish I had turkeys eating my apples so I could scream “Thanksgiving” at them, though I do have squirrels eating my walnuts. Felicitations for your new baby. Your kids will have a wonderful time growing up on the land &, as I’m not too optimistic about what is happening to the climate & international politics, on the land is the best place to be. My son plans to retire from his high-powered sales job in England and retire to the honey house at 53 with a pension & cash; he’ll be on to a good start as a beekeeper & whatever else comes to mind. I’m looking forward to your next month’s instalment. Yvonne

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you so much for sharing your story! Sounds like you’ve created a wonderful life for yourself! I love the Little House books and recently found that they were made into children’s books for little kids and have been reading them to Babywoods 🙂

      • Little House on the Prairie board books?! I’m totally looking this up to get for my toddler! Especially fun since I moved to the prairies a while ago and live in a (fairly) little house!

  15. Craig says:

    So glad to hear the cider turned out delicious, maybe we should come out and try some if there is any left…

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      THANK YOU for all of your help!!!! We couldn’t have done it without you! I think we’re going to have cider for years at this point, so definitely come and bring some growlers to fill up and take home 🙂

  16. It’s so cool to read about the pruning of the apple trees. We just have one and it has only produced a couple of apples in a few years–obviously we need to do our homework and learn how to prune it (we planted it as a baby five years ago). Congrats on the book–I loved it so much! And your new family of four! Another storm’s a comin’ tomorrow. 🙂 Hoping they’ll taper off soon!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      I was really thinking that maybe last week’s storm was our last of the year… hah!!! Good luck with your apple tree! We found that pruning really upped the yield in the next year.

  17. Congrats on the release of the book and the apple harvest!

    Looking at your photos makes me want to move to the woods and FIRE so badly. But I know we have a lot of work to do before we can get there. I love the idea of going out to our garden and just picking whatever fruit we want for the day without worrying about long trips to the grocery stores or looking for sales. Maybe I’m just fantasizing rural life. I’m not so sure, but it just sounds so good!

  18. Mitch Collins says:

    Seems like when the time comes to replace Frugalhound you need a breed that will chase away the deer and turkeys.

  19. Terri says:

    Hahaha, “Thanksgiving!!!!!” I love it! I looooove apple cider, enjoy!

  20. As a fellow backyard horticulturalist with a young orchard of 18 dwarf fruit trees, I can relate to your maddening pajama scramble when it comes to deer predation. Had a good laugh to know we’re not the only ones who resort to such desperate measures!

    Since we planted our orchard only a short 3 years ago, deer predation has been less of a concern with fruit thus far (last year marked our first harvest) and much more so in regard to the tender young branches that the trees are still forming. Several of our trees have been so stunted that their growth has been severely limited. We’ve tried multiple prevention methods without much success until recently.

    Playing loud music via extension cord and portable radio at night resulted in a discovery that the whitetailed marauders simply enjoy being serenaded during their villainy. We looked into some of the deer-away horticultural sprays available, but the most effective of the bunch consists primarily of pig blood – not exactly something we really wanted to douse our “organic” orchard in.

    Motion-activated sprinkler systems are said to be effective, particularly if you know the direction the deer typically approach from. However, installing one of these bad boys involved either constantly performing yardwork around an exposed hose, trenching several hundred feet to bury said hose, both of which seemed like poor options.

    We did finally find a fairly effective solution, shy of the high-security dogs and barbed wire approach, and it’s fairly cost-effective as well. Buy a 50-100 pack of cheap, scented dryer sheets from Wal-Mart (I use Bounce brand). Get the strongest-smellin’ stuff you can find. Cut up the sheets length-wise into strips and tie these selectively onto branch tips spaced 2’ or so apart. Effective for about a month or so, pending rains. As of a year or so ago, this has saved the majority of our trees from being further stunted by deer snipping off branches in the winter months or feasting on young new shoots come spring.

    Here’s hoping to many more successful harvests (and helpers!) on your behalf!

  21. Julia says:

    Your description of pruning overgrown trees too fast sounds very similar to a journey to frugality from being a spendypants- if you cut out everything all at once, you feel deprived and may abandon the journey. But if you carefully examine your spending, prioritize, and take small steps, you end up with a magnificent result!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      What a great analogy! I may have to borrow that :)!

      • Julia says:

        I thought you were headed in that direction as I read those paragraphs 🙂 would love to hear you flesh it out more, I love all the analogies to life that can come from gardening etc.

  22. Torrie says:

    Ha ha, now you’ve got me a bit worried—we just moved into our first house last year, and I just HAD AT IT at our apple trees and pruned away…hopefully they won’t die now 🙂 Guess I only have to wait a few more weeks to find out, at any rate!

  23. Jane says:

    Aww, tell us more about Littlewoods, please! She’s so cute. 🙂

  24. Seeing that keg and CO2 canister makes me want to fire up the home-brew system! I bet that saison yeast was a tasty choice. Great job on the PBS interview, so cool!

  25. Steve says:

    Now you’ve made me want to have a small apple orchard, but man that sounds like a ton of work. Congrats on keeping them all alive and finding ways to devour all of those delicious apples. In all honesty, I’d probably be sick and tired of them already.

  26. jacob beck says:

    awhle back you mentioned that frugal hound passed away have you thought of getting a new frugal hound ?

  27. Minimalizzy says:

    Loved this blog post! Your writing brings a smile to my face, and congrats on your new addition (the baby AND the cider) 🙂

  28. Mrs. Moe says:

    Congrats on the book, the apples, and most of all Littlewoods! Mr. Moe is a brew master for his craft beer (west coast guy doing some time in the east coast). We live in suburbia and don’t have bushels and bushels of apples. 🙂 One of the exercises we haven’t quite tried yet is to figure out if we’re saving money, spending more, or breaking even with his brew activities. However, he loves the hobby and his home brew is such a fun thing to bring to friend’s homes for get togethers and gifting. I’m sure your hard apple cider would be a very popular gift idea. 😀

  29. Judy says:

    “Chase away turkeys, wearing your pajamas” makes me dissolve in giggles picturing Sandra Boynton art of turkeys wearing pajamas.

  30. David says:

    Hard cider is yummy. I personally like it very dry, fully fermented out with Red Star Cuvée yeast. The Belle Saison yeast did make a yummy cider. Nottingham is another good one to try if you want that fruity yet slightly beery taste.

  31. Steph-fifi says:

    You just casually mention the PBS segment.. ITS AWESOME!! I’d be posting that everywhere!

  32. John Fisher says:

    Do you guys have sugar maples on your property? My late wife and I did a similar gig to you back in the 1970s, but only on five acres. We tapped our trees and made superb maple syrup. We kept bees too – you must try that as soon as you’re settled in.
    91-year old John from Ontario, Canada.

  33. Finished reading your book yesterday as the snow fell and I sat contently by my wood stove. Delightful read well worth the time and money spent. Review written and submitted on Amazon. Congrats on the cider making….21 easy steps to a glass of cider might be your next book! In future blog posts, I would love to read tips for those of us who have reached retirement age. Its easy to fall into a “I’ve saved all my life now lets have a little fun spending” mindset. Without a clear cut goal (such as purchasing a homestead in the woods), its hard to make oneself save when it’s not as necessary as when we were younger, and saving for one’s future nursing home stay isn’t as fun. Would love to hear your thoughts. Well done you on the wonderful book!

  34. Justine says:

    This is a fantastic idea. I so miss drinking cider in the summer months. Trying to watch my weight at the moment, so cider is a big no no – but hopefully by the time the summer rolls around again, I will be good to go!

  35. Kacy says:

    What a cool post. Very inspiring. I’m by no means an apple orchard expert, but I do study permaculture/gardening quite extensively. I might suggest some caution with pruning the “wild” apple trees if they’ve never been pruned before. Essentially, once you prune, you will need to keep it up forever or risk the trees become deformed/sick and potentially dying. Alternatively, if the trees are never pruned, they will grow the way nature intended and not require any maintenance from you. Of course, this comes at the expense of harvestability and overall production, but potentially results in healthier trees. The wildlife on your land won’t mind that they have to wait for the apples to fall naturally either. Masanobu Fukuoka has some very interesting thoughts related to this if you’re interested

  36. Delnora says:

    Funniest post yet, Liz. I laughed out loud! Congrats on your fermenting and publishing and reproductive successes!

  37. Laura says:

    Love the manyyyy steps to get hard cider 😂
    I’ve made it from scratch before, too, though I picked the apples from a farm rather than harvesting them from my own land! So definitely jealous of that aspect!

  38. WantNotToWantNot says:

    Wonderfully amusing listicles! Life in the wilds….

    Congratulations on all the tremendous press attention for the new book—well-deserved!

    What a dramatic time you’ve had, with the joys of new Littlewoods and Book, on top of the loss of Frugalhound. Big changes always seem to happen in threes….

  39. Littlewoods is the most perfect Woods I’ve seen since the last pic of Babywoods!!
    Congrats on birthing both book, and baby. OOps! Forgot the cider felicitations!

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