Welcome to the first ever installment of “This Month On The Homestead,” a brand-new monthly Frugalwoods series about, uh, this month on the homestead. As you can see, the title is quite descriptive.
Our transition from urban city-slickers to rural homesteaders is filled with daily
mistakes learning experiences, new friends, us doing stupid things with farm equipment innovating, and more! I’ve shared our greatest hits (in photo form) on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (although sometimes I forget to post to Twitter… ), but I haven’t done much in the way of updatin’ here on the blog. Hence, my brilliant idea* to commence “This Month On The Homestead”!
*Actually, it was Mr. FW’s idea after I mused “if only I had a way to update people on what was going on out here!” Then he reminded me that I have a blog. Yep.
As I write, I’m sitting on our back porch, enjoying some rhubarb cobbler I baked with ‘barb from our garden, relishing the breeze, and listening to the dulcet mooing of our neighbor’s cows. Moo.
In our first official month out here on the land, we quickly realized that ruthless prioritization is the name of the game. Without it, we run the risk of becoming totes overwhelmed and doing squat. Not squats, which would be useful for the gluteal region, but rather the singular “squat,” which is to say: zilch.
In light of this focus on prioritization, we’re fast recognizing the merit and flow of seasonal work. Mr. FW often works outside late into the evening (thanks to our long hours of daylight) and we made the decision to relegate all of our “inside-the-house” projects to the wintertime when there won’t be nearly as much to do on our land. I have a growing list of indoor projects including: installing a dishwasher, replacing an aged toilet, painting the walls, organizing the basement, and hanging up our art. But I’m content with waiting to tackle these things until the weather mandates we secret ourselves inside. No sense wasting these beatific summer weeks behind closed doors.
One quasi-indoor endeavor I am addressing this summer is cleaning out our outbuildings–aka the barn and the potting shed. The previous owners left quite a few boxes behind–some of which are filled with trash and recycling and others of which contain useful household items I’m guessing they never unpacked from their move. I’m working to sort everything out into piles destined for the dump, to donate, and to use.
Recalling how very cold last winter was, and how very much we relished being warmed by our woodstove, we determined that putting up firewood is priority #1. In an ideal world, we would’ve put up this wood months (if not years) ago in order for it to properly season, but, we didn’t live here months or years ago. We live here now and so we’re taking the wood project in hand now. For those of you in the club of not being entirely sure what “putting up wood” means (of which I was recently a member) allow me to expound!
Heating With Wood: A Brief Overview By Mrs. Frugalwoods
Our woodstove has the capability to singlehandedly heat our entire home (a theory we tested and confirmed this winter when temps dipped to -25F). We have oil-fired hot water baseboard heat as a back-up, but it’s vastly cheaper (ding, ding, ding!) to heat with wood–especially when the wood is harvested for free on one’s own land. Plus our name is Frugalwoods. Hence, you can all guess why we’re doing this. Another wonderful thing is that our woodstove is modern and thus, doesn’t emit toxins into our home (a danger of heating with an open fireplace).
In addition to the thriftiness of it, there’s also something deliciously nostalgic and quaintly romantic about heating with a woodstove. Plus it looks cool. Additionally, selectively harvesting wood is part of healthy forest management–something we aim to do!
To get our wood procurement started as safely as possible, Mr. FW studied logging for several years via the internet. Then in May, he took a weekend-long hands-on safety and directional felling course (directional felling = bringing down a tree where you want it to fall, as in, not on top of self/others/your house/a cow/etc). For local folks interested, it was the Game Of Logging course offered by VT Coverts. Before going any further, I cannot emphasize enough the preeminence of safety in all chainsaw-related endeavors. Mr. FW uses all recommended safety gear including steel-toed boots, a helmet with ear and eye protection, as well as chainsaw chaps, and gloves.
In order to get from tree standing in our forest to firewood in our stove, Mr. FW follows a number of steps:
1) He first selects a tree to bring down, which is a surprisingly complex decision.
Variables impacting tree selection include: type of tree (different types of wood burn differently and ideally, you want firewood with a high BTU), the ease of bringing it down (is it likely to get caught up or bring other trees down with it?), ability to skid the log (that’s a fancy way of saying ‘get the log out of the woods’), menace/danger trees (this is my term for trees that are likely to fall down and block, say, our driveway), and the health of the tree (ideally you bring down a dead or dying tree, but not one that’s so far gone the wood is rotten).
2) After picking a tree, he then goes through a rigorous safety calculation as to which direction will be wisest to fell the tree.
It is possible to control a tree’s fall direction–to an extent–through the use of the notch and wedge system. Using a chainsaw, he first cuts a notch at the base of the tree and then pounds wedges in.
3) Once the tree is down, Mr. FW bucks it in place.
“Buck” simply means to remove the tree’s limbs and saw the trunk into foot-long pieces.
4) Following bucking, he loads the rounds into our tracker bucket and drives them down to his splitting station next to the barn.
If we had more equipment, he could skid the logs whole out of the woods, but for the time being, this approach works well enough.
5) Now it’s time for splittin’!
Mr. FW is valiantly splitting logs by hand, using a splitting axe, for the simple reason that we don’t own a hydraulic splitter. Ever the frugal weirdo, he decided to try out the old school manual method before dropping the dough on a splitter (we have our eyes peeled for a used one… ).
6) Finally, he stacks the splits (split logs) onto pallets in our yard and covers the stacks with pieces of steel salvaged from old structures on our land.
This arrangement allows the wood to “season,” which is the process by which it dries out. Un-seasoned, wet wood is referred to as “green” wood and it doesn’t burn as efficiently as properly seasoned wood. The wood will hang out in the yard drying until after the first frost, which will hopefully kill the bugs. Then, it will migrate into our wood shed and eventually into our basement, and finally, upstairs into the stove!
And there you have it: a very brief–and probably wildly incomplete–outline of how to put up wood!
Division Of Labor
One of the most interesting aspects of our new life here on the farm is that a gendered division of labor has evolved. In the city, Mr. FW and I filled essentially all of the same roles on a regular basis. Now however, we’re discovering that our labor is, by necessity, sometimes divided. As ardent feminists who believe in an egalitarian marriage where each parter pulls equal weight, this is novel territory for us to chart.
The most recent example? I tried to split wood. I tried really hard. I lofted the axe, assumed a wide-legged stance, hefted with all my heft and… nothing happened. Or more accurately, the axe got stuck in the stump. After unsuccessfully splitting wood for awhile, we decided to leave the task to Mr. FW.
It’s not that I don’t want to split wood, and it’s not that I’m not strong–it’s just that I seem to lack the mass required to bring the axe down with enough force to actually split the wood. Perhaps my strength will grow and perhaps next year I’ll be a splitting fiend. But perhaps not. Accepting that there are things I can’t physically do is a humbling experience. Coupled with the acknowledgement of things I can’t do, however, is the opportunity to take on different chores in their stead.
For instance… Mr. FW has always served as our sole cook, but I’ve decided to assume some of our cooking since he’s often out splitting wood late into the evening. He’s teaching me to cook (a slow and arduous process to be sure… ) and I pleasantly surprised myself by making this Focaccia bread on my own last week! I will say that learning new things is certainly the prevailing theme of life out here.
Another skill to master! Also in the catalog of urban v. rural differences, our town doesn’t provide trash and recycling pick-up. Hence, I take both down to the town transfer station every Saturday morning. Recycling is free, but trash costs $2/bag.
Since we’re now composting and since most things are recyclable and since we’re ultra-frugal, we fortunately average about 1 bag of trash every 2 weeks (it would be less except for my barn-cleaning-out project, which generates a fair amount of trash).
My New Favorite Chore
Surprisingly, it is not taking the trash to the dump ;). We inherited a shockingly large number of flower beds in our yard and its nothing short of incredible to watch the panoply of blooms that spring forth each week.
May and June saw yellow Globe Flowers erupt, pink and purple Lupine blossom, a Lilac bush, Day-blooming Jasmine, purple Columbines, purple and white Irises, orange Poppies, pink and white Peonies, Lady’s Mantle, purple Bachelor’s Buttons, Pink Bistort, and a frankly absurd number of wildflowers. A new friend came over to help us identify these flowers since we didn’t know the names of most and I’m trying to commit them to memory!
Every week, I walk around our land and clip flowers to create arrangements. I then sit on the porch with Babywoods, strip off the leaves, and arrange my findings into vases. It’s a rather zen ritual for me and I’ve come to consider it my favorite chore. Flowers are the most ephemeral, fleeting visions of delight. What I love most about this little undertaking is that it’s not a necessity. There’s nothing mandating that I collect flowers–I do it simply because I want to. It’s quite indulgent, luxurious, and wonderful to have something in one’s routine merely for the pleasure of it.
I’ve always loved fresh flowers in a home, but I’ve never been willing to pay for them. Now that we’re inundated with floral abundance, it feels like such a gift to adorn our home for free! Finding outlets for our flowers is another goal of mine–I donated some to the local plant sale (which raises funds for our community center), gave away bulbs, I do the arrangements at church some Sundays, and I love gifting bouquets to people. If I were more organized/had more time, I’d find more places to donate flowers–that’s a goal for next summer!
A Garden Grows (sort of… )
June was also vegetable planting month. As previously shared, I decided to focus our gardening efforts on getting a vegetable patch underway. We planted tomatoes, basil, oregano, rosemary, sage, peppers, spinach, arugula, mesclun mix, brussels sprouts, and squash. Nothing has produced any fruit yet…. but it’s all still alive!
Diligent watering, weeding, and fertilizing are hopefully contributing to the health of our nascent crops. Simply getting this veg garden weeded from its erstwhile jungle-like state down to bare dirt and then planting stuff feels like a massive accomplishment. Back pats all around.
Endless, Abundant Gratitude
We are infused with it and we live in its presence every single day. In addition to this series serving as my repository for the absurdly large number of photos I take on a daily basis (my phone is constantly running out of storage space… like every other day), these posts will provide a monthly reflection of our gratitude for the ability to pursue this life. I am constantly reminded of how fortunate we are to live here and imbued daily with a sense of awe over the natural beauty surrounding us. Living with abundant gratitude for the simple machinations of our life is all I could ever want.