This Month On The Homestead: Town Meeting, Apple Tree Pruning, and a Pancake Supper
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.
March in Vermont started off with a tease of spring. From the bay window in our living room, I could just barely make out a few tall, determined blades of grass poking their brown, sword-tipped heads above the blankets of white.
And then winter–a jealous master this year–roared back, dumping foot after foot of snow, suffocating those intrepid blades, tunneling us back into the depths of cold. I’m not organized enough or scientific enough to report on just how many inches of snow we accumulated this month, but I can tell you it was a lot.
This isn’t a bad thing, however. Mr. Frugalwoods and I don’t view winter as a lesser season or something to be avoided or an interminable waiting room of spring.
Snowshoe hiking is actually better than summer hiking in many ways because there’s no brush to contend with and, with the leaves off the hardwoods, I can see deep into our forest–pole after pole of beech, birch, maple, and hop hornbeam. The summertime, conversely, chokes our trails with enthusiastic weeds who spy their only chance at sunlight in the middle of the trail, grappling for a foothold in an already crowded forest.
Pulled by parents in her game sled over marshmallow layers of snowfall after snowfall, Babywoods falls asleep, thinking she’s gliding on air. I prefer pulling to carrying on my back and so, I prefer the snow that allows me to do just that.
Town Meeting Day
On the first Tuesday of March, towns in Vermont hold their annual town meeting. In our hamlet, we gathered at the town center to discuss, debate, and vote on officers of the town, budget allocations, and more. It’s an opportunity for every resident to voice their opinion on how the town should operate.
While delightfully quaint, it’s also a testament to the power of direct democracy. Town meetings have occurred in Vermont since before Vermont became a state. The rich history permeating Vermont culture, the respect for divergent opinions, and the opportunity to be involved in hyper-local government are yet more reasons why we love our adopted state.
Several of our town’s exuberant 10-year-old girls happily watched Babywoods in the town center basement while the meeting progressed. Thrilled with the chance to play house with a real live doll, they popped in every 15 minutes to report her activities to me in excited, breathless whispers (“She’s laughing! We fed her a doughnut! We read a book to her!”). After the meeting there was, of course, a potluck lunch. While there are plenty of things our town doesn’t have, such as stoplights, paved roads, restaurants, or a movie theatre, we seem to compensate for this dearth of modernity just fine.
School Board Meeting Day
March also saw our annual school board meeting. Our district is consolidated, which means several small towns banded together to form a larger district with more kids and more resources. One of the reasons we decided our homestead was the one is this school district–it’s well ranked, has low student to teacher ratios, and the school buildings are in excellent condition.
Even though Babywoods won’t be a pupil for another two years–she’ll start their free preschool program at age three–we feel it’s important to show our support now. I rallied my fellow toddler parents to attend the meeting since we all consider this district a valuable attribute of where we live. Not all rural areas are fortunate to have such a vibrant school district and my friends and I feel strongly about ensuring its longevity.
The interesting thing about living in such a small place is that, quite often, the difference between a budget passing, or a road being fixed, or a community dinner coming together are the actions of just one or two people.
Back in the city, when we’d volunteer for something or attend a city meeting, we were in a cast of thousands, our voices just adding to the din and clatter. Now, we see that each person has the ability to affect real change. We’re so grateful to all the people who’ve given so selflessly of their time and talents to make this little part of the world such a wonderful place.
Mr. FW already serves on two local nonprofit governing boards and we’re both mapping out how we’d like to become more involved as the years go by. We feel an imperative to keep our community strong and to lend our support where we’re able–even if it’s just attending a meeting and voting ‘yea’ instead of ‘nay.’
One more community event to report on this month: a pancake supper at the town center! The pancake eating was following by a lecture on climate change and its impact on maple syruping. As hopeful maple syrup maker wannabes, this was a great opportunity to learn more about the process. Our plan is to start tapping trees for syrup next year.
Apple Tree Pruning
Spring–even when it’s a snow-covered one–is the time for pruning fruit trees. As the lucky owners of a small orchard of apple trees, we had quite a bit of pruning to accomplish this year.
Mr. FW took several workshops on pruning and then set out with his clippers to try and bring our long-neglected apple trees back around to good health. Apple trees require annual pruning in order to ensure that the strongest branches survive, which in turn ensures a better crop of apples.
Branches shouldn’t cross one another or rub and, as the old saying goes, you should be able to throw a cat through the middle of the tree. To phrase it less dangerously for felines: trees should grow out, not up and there should be a good deal of open space in the center of the tree. We pruned our trees inexpertly last year and didn’t remove an adequate number of branches. This month, Mr. FW took out massive proportions of wood to try and help our trees grow more auspiciously. If an apple tree has too many branches, it’ll put its energy into growing taller–not into producing apples.
Mr. FW pruned the ten apple trees that comprise our backyard “orchard,” with careful attention to each branch. Next, he’ll turn his attention to the so-called wild apple trees that ring our property and dot our woods. These trees produced quite a few apples last fall and, with attentive pruning and care, could be coaxed in producing quite a bit more.
If trees are pruned annually, there’s not much work to do each year. But when trees haven’t been pruned in years, there’s a cycle of cutting back and regrowth that needs to occur. It’s possible this extensive pruning will cause the trees not to produce this year, or, it could encourage them to push forth bounties of apples. Either way, pruning will ensure their longterm health and viability.
This is a gross oversimplification of the somewhat complex art of pruning, but you get the basic idea. Starting next month, Mr. FW will work on a pest and disease mitigation regimen for our trees.
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Onward to April frugal comrades!
How was March on your own personal homestead?
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We pruned our apple trees this month, too! We inherited four neglected trees with our farm last year, so there was quite a bit of work to do. It’s always hard for me to cut off so much of a tree, but we’re hoping it’s all for the best. 🙂 We also started some of our vegetable seeds, and hashed out farm plans for the year.
I’m actually jealous of your snow! We live in Northern Michigan, and moved about 60 miles west last year toward the shore of Lake Michigan. Our new place receives vastly lesser quantities of snow than the old farm did. So while it’s good for growing vegetables, and we’ll gain about an extra month of frost-free growing, I miss the snow for cross-country skiing. Our land has been brown for about a month now. It’s so weird that the snow has melted, but it’s still not really warm enough for much to grow. I’m eagerly looking forward to the advent of spring just for a little change in the scenery! 😉
I’ve also been wondering about Mr. FW’s work plans. I know your original plan was to move to your homestead by the spring of 2017 (and seems to me you were hoping to quite your jobs then). I also remember that you always planned to write in retirement. But if I’m not being too nosey, I wonder if Mr. FW plans to continue working full-time indefinitely, or if he plans to retire from his job to have more time for working on the homestead and getting involved in local projects. (And maybe you don’t want to talk about that now that you’re no longer anonymous, but I’m just curious!)
Reading your post is a perfect way to start my day. Your homestead life sounds so peaceful and enjoyable. I’m starting to dream…
The town meetings sound great, and the pancake supper, yummmmmy. When my oldest daughter graduated from high school, she skipped going on the cheesy (drunken) cruise that many seniors took on spring break, and the official school trip of a hectic four days in NYC taking in 2 Broadway shows and too many sights. Instead, she wanted a very quiet trip, not even a family trip, but just her and me, exploring some place she’s always wanted to see. She chose Vermont as the place to go. She and I spent a wonderful 8 days there, exploring parts of the state and enjoying the small towns everywhere. Your post makes me want to go back again!
Our yard is in need of mowing and we have many projects left undone, but after my husband has his surgery, we hope he’ll be back in much better form and can get back on the task of caring for the house upkeep and yard while I’m at work. We’ve been having very warm weather, almost 90 degrees some days, but this morning the temperature is 46, so we just backed up a bit weather-wise, ourselves. We’ll have to protect some veggie plants the next few nights, but it will be hot again soon.
Being British, I do love snow as we rarely get any decent amounts so when it falls, it’s great. But, because of our lack of real, sustained snowfall, I realise I get impatient if winter drags on for too long. Although our seasons aren’t as well defined, I do enjoy an earlier start to Spring (around March time) and just feel my spirits psychologically lifting with the warming sunshine, the spring flowers and the baby animals – especially the lambs!!
We have cherry trees in our backyard. We’ve always enjoyed the blossoms but maybe this year we’ll actually do something with the cherries, if we can get to them before the birds!
Hi Jackie, a trick I learned as a kid, was taking a couple of those big mylar birthday balloons, cut them into strips, and then tie the strips around a few branches so the reflective parts are shining outward. It helps scare the birds away. We had cherry trees in our yard when I was young and, same thing, the birds would get to them way before we could. The years I did this with my leftover birthday balloons in spring, we would end up a pretty decent crop!
Stephanie thanks for solving a mystery for me! We were driving through central Washington and noticed tinsel hanging from all the apple trees. Now I know why! 🙂
Thanks for the tip!
Just wanted to say your writing is great! Your description of winter on the homestead makes me want to visit Vermont! Also, it sounds like you live in a really great town – the level of community involvement you have is rare in this day and age and definitely something to be nourished and supported.
I love the game sled “stroller” btw – my own frugal weirdo parents used a fish tub as my bassinet when I was a wee one. Now if I could just find someone to pull me through the woods on a game sled while I nap…. 😉
Wonderful ways to be involved in your community! The town meeting reminds me of Gilmore girls, which you probably didn’t watch, but was filled with colorful characters making decisions together!
I could use a few eager tweens to watch my kids for free as well.😉 I am so enjoying your updates and especially the photos of your Vermont life!
I feel like I “read” an episode of the Gilmore Girls meets….well, I can’t quite figure it out. It sounds so… idyllic.
I never knew apple trees needed to be pruned! Growing up on a farm we had three apple trees that I don’t ever remember my parents pruning. They still always have way too many apples each season. We definitely would NOT be able to throw a cat through them! 😀
Love your way with words and all you write about!
I did the same for our on site peach trees this past weekend. We have a wild apple I still need to deal with. The issue is the previous owner now three years ago did no pruning so the apple is probably 15 feet high. As such I do a little of reduction each year to bring it back to normal without killing the tree.
“marshmallow layers of snow” …I love that line. Perhaps writing a children’s book is in your future about life on the frugal homestead! One story for each season on the homestead. I simply love re-reading the Little house on the Prairie books.
I just love the way you write, Mrs. Frugalwoods! I don’t know if homesteading is actually in the cards for me in the future, but your writing sure has a way of making me want to turn my back on the city and go live in a similar place! Especially if it involves pancake dinners, yum. I especially love the direct impact you have in local government-feeling like I don’t have a say in things is something I’ve been struggling with since becoming a DC resident, but thanks for the reminder that I can still have an impact at the local level, even if I’m one of hundreds of people at a meeting.
I’ve had to saw into massive apple trees than had been neglected for years, on a ladder with a chainsaw – its a risky business, but stewardship is a time machine type of reward. The apple-wood prunings can be saved for the smoker… you will have a smoker eventually, right? 😉
I LOVE how active y’all are in your town’s meetings and planning. 🙂 We live in a small city incorporated inside a bigger city, which means we can be a part of the hyper-local governing bodies as well as larger ones. It’s particularly awesome that your school district is to amazing in a rural area. I went to school in rural Oklahoma for a few years and I can attest that a rural education isn’t always quality, unfortunately. :/
In good news, our little suburban homestead is starting to come together! We have radishes growing out of our ears, it seems (seriously, SO many radishes), and started getting a strawberry a day from our garden. We should start to see some tomatoes and peppers in the coming month, which will be so exciting! I’ve also started harvesting the mixed greens we’re growing. They’re perfect flavor-boosters for storebought lettuce, since our own lettuce is still too small.
I lived in Billerica when I was little–before it got so built up. I LOVED walking in the woods during the winter. We enjoyed navigating through more easily because you could see much clearer without the trees & shrubs blocking your view. Plus, it was exciting to look for rabbit tracks! All the neighborhood kids headed out right after the snow fell.
Unfortunately we had to have 5 ash trees removed from our farmyard in March. Infested by emerald ash borer they were a danger to our buildings. The gentleman who removed them estimated some were 90 years old. Difficult to watch but our “new” view is much safer all around.
We have a bunch of dead ash on our property as well. Only one near the house, fortunately. A recent storm blew many of them over. Sad for sure, but we’ll have lots of firewood! Glad your buildings are safe now.
Bravo to the Frugalwoods for being so active with your school district! I work at our small town’s local school district and we don’t get a ton of residents at our annual meetings. Toddler parents should attend en masse, because they could probably push for a preschool program, which we currently don’t have (but need!). Truly, in a small town, a couple of voices can change outcomes for the entire region.
Jealous of your apple and maple trees here. I’ve love to learn all about that. Hopefully our next house will have some productive trees when we retire. But for now with our house and rental property, we have nary a tree between them.
And along with becoming the crank who attends town meetings, I’ve also thought about non-profits I could get involved with in the future when I have the time. Marge serves on one right now and resents it for taking up so much of our precious spare time.
We live in Mississippi, and so it’s been spring since early March. We’re already moving into summer–the peach tree in our front yard blossomed, and we have vegetables sprouting in the garden. We miss the snow though. As Northerners, we would infinitely prefer a long, snowy winter to the sweltering summers we experience here. If you and Mr. FW need a free, romantic date, we highly recommend snow shoeing at night with a full moon overhead. Bonus points if you’ve just gotten a new snow. There’s something magical about the velvet blackness between the trees, the sweet, frigid air, and the sparkling snow.
One of our local universities here in the Dakotas has spring workshops where different experts/professors speak about gardening type scenarios. This year they have had education on garden soil, berries, pruning, grafting, and many more topics. They post all of the workshops online if you can’t attend the workshop. Your local university may have something like that too, and these are free!!! I always enjoy your posts, keep up the great work!
Ok the frugalhound baby woods photo is so cute. Yay!
Sounds wonderful! We live in an appartment on the 8th floor in a small city, so we don’t have any trees to prune 🙂 However, we are working towards our goal of owning a house with a garden and the ability to wake up to the sounds of birds instead of cars. Being frugal will help us realise this goal!
Well, it figures why the ONE apple tree we planted in our front yard 12 years ago is growing straight UP and the apples are the size of a raisen. We’ve never pruned the thing! How stupid are we? Thanks for the tutorial on pruning. Maybe we can divert it’s missile-like growth pattern without killing the poor thing.
I’m sure you can bring it back to good health! There are some tutorials on YouTube–good luck and may you get lots of big apples in the future 🙂
The homestead sounds absolutely wonderful, as much as the town. I especially love the pancake supper meeting to discuss the environmental impacts towards maple syruping. So how much maple sap does one typically collect in a season (are there seasons or is this year round collection?)? looking forward to the updates on your experience with all this. you do know, maple sap in water is the new big trend (as seen on my FB feed). silly, i think. I’d rather go for pancakes + syrup.
Sounds like you guys are fully immersed in small town life. Do you ever miss being in the city? I grew up in a big city but spent summers with family in small towns so I can definitely see the benefits of both – I wouldn’t complain at all having my own hiking trails though!
When I think of town meetings I must admit, my mind wanders to Gilmore girls lol. Your little town sounds so nice and close knit.
Long time follower here ! I was just reading the post with your cash streams and revenue models and I just thought of another way to monetize your homestead life! In addition to your AirBnB, would you consider marketing your barn space as a wedding venue? Fall barn weddings are all the rage and with your deal-hunting prowess, you’re sure to find decorations befitting a wedding-in-a-barn theme.
Open Town Meeting is the last form of True Democracy & Government. I live in MA (west of 128 and East of 495) in a town of roughly 20,000. We only get about 300 residents on the first night, where the budgets are voted on and less on the second. Sad that more residents do not take the opportunity to be part of the process and really understand what drives the local government. I am on the Town Finance Committee and 87% of the taxes fall on the citizens. Furthermore we have top rated school district. So keep getting involved and encourage those around you to attend Town Meeting. It is where the true needs and wants of a community are decided.