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 moments of our first year on the homestead here.
August can be summed up as follows: vegetables! Indeed, this was the month our garden produced in near overwhelming abundance. Everything here is lusciously, verdantly green.
It’s not hot, exactly, as our part of Vermont rarely experiences what one would call “hot” temperatures, but it certainly was warm. Windows are open everywhere (since air conditioning is as rare as a 90-degree day here) and people are outside. It’s the month to savor the languid procession of summer in anticipation of the crisp, favorite fall.
It’s the month to reap what you’ve sown and swim in your creek and contemplate your woodstove’s role in the months to come.
Since Babywoods and I were away for the bulk of August, Mr. Frugalwoods was busily harvesting, maintaining, and preserving the bounty of our land. Mr. FW began his garden-related labors back in March when he started a bevy of veggie plants from seeds–tomatoes, peppers, pole beans, sunflowers, cucumbers (some of them), and pumpkins (some of them)–inside our upstairs bathroom under grow lights. Since the Vermont growing season is so brief (we’re in plant hardiness zone 4 for all you gardening aficionados), most vegetables aren’t able to come to maturity outside during the timeframe of late May to mid-September. To combat this, one must give fledging plants a head start indoors where it’s nice and warm.
Given the length of this tending, and the constant weeding, mulching, and pest mitigation Mr. FW has conducted, finally enjoying the literal fruits of his labors is nothing short of exhilarating. The ironic thing about gardening is that you wait and wait and wait for things to grow and then, all of a sudden, everything ripens at once, inundating you with baskets of food. Depending on the quantity of the vegetable in question, we either consume it as it comes or preserve it for the future.
Since this is our second year here on the homestead, we’re still neophyte gardeners and novice preservationists, which is to say, we have no idea what we’re doing. It’s very much a learn-as-we-go proposition. However, this is part of the joy of our new life and we relish each new opportunity… except of course when we’re running around like maniacs trying to figure out what to do with 10,000 green beans.
Balancing homestead work with the other work of our lives is challenging at times, but it’s also a deeply rewarding aspect of living close to nature and in alignment with the seasons. We’re learning that each phase of life, each bloom of plant, each ripening of vegetable is a fleeting moment in time. Nature doesn’t wait around; it’s very much a seize-the-plant situation.
Ok “crops” is a bit of an overstatement for what we’ve grown since most of the quantities are just enough for us to consume… but you get the idea. Here’s a rundown of everything that grew on our land this year (or is still growing!) and what we did with it.
Late spring/early summer (late May to early June):
- Rhubarb: I harvested a massive quantity of stalks and made a canned rhubarb compote, which tastes delicious atop pound cake or other such deserts. Most of this will be used as gifts throughout the year.
- Asparagus: We have two beds of asparagus; however, the growing season is so brief, and our taste for asparagus so mighty, that we simply eat these lovely stalks as they come ripe. No need to preserve!
Early summer (mid June to early July):
- Arugula: I cut these tender, peppery greens at their base with a pair of scissors and eat them on salads as they ripen. They do keep in the refrigerator for a few days, so no need to harvest daily and no need to preserve. Eat as they grow!
- Black raspberries: As previously discussed, these are indeed a wholly different berry than blackberries and red raspberries, and they are divine. Babywoods and I harvest these together and she mostly eats them en plein air in the moment. Needless to say, there is no need for us to preserve these babies as they get eaten whole and hearty. I freeze whatever we don’t consume in gallon-sized ziplock bags in our deep freeze to pop out for enjoyment year round.
- Red raspberries: We don’t have many of these and what we do have is rapidly consumed by Babywoods as she trolls the grounds in search of “baaaaeeeys.”
Mid-summer (mid to late July):
- Kale: Mr. FW’s kale crop ripened in robust fashion. It was our first time ever growing kale and it came out darn tasty! He harvests kale every few days and cooks it up in a to-die-for spicy Asian-inspired stir fry along with chard, beans, onions, garlic, ginger, and approximately 1 million spices served atop a bed of rice.
- Chard: Another first-time attempt for us that did extremely well. It hops into the stir-fry pan with the kale.
- Herbs, including dill, cilantro, rosemary, sage, and thyme: We harvest these as we need them in dishes.
- Plums: Our three plum trees produced one single solitary plum this year, which was a 100% increase over their production last year! Mr. FW carefully pruned, tended, and hand-pollinated the trees this year in the hopes of coaxing a plum forth, and, it worked. This lone plum was tiny but fiercely delicious and we hope that in future years more plums will come to bear. These trees were planted by a previous owner and untended for years, so hopefully with pruning and tending they’ll ramp up production.
Late summer (late July to September):
- Bush and Pole Beans: These two varieties of green beans are very similar, save their growing style. As the names indicate, pole beans grow in a stalk climbing up poles, which Mr. FW constructed from wood and small trees harvested from our land. Bush beans, as you might’ve guessed, grow in a little bush. We eat these beans in three ways: raw on salads, cooked into a stir-fry, and preserved. Mr. FW pickled a bunch-o-beans and we will test these out to see if we like how they taste after preservation.
- Cucumbers: While we could certainly eat these puppies raw, so far, Mr. FW has pickled all of them into spicy pickles via two methods: refrigerator pickles and canned pickles. We LOVE pickles and most especially spicy, homemade pickles, so this is a dream come true. The refrigerator pickles are easier and faster to make, and they taste crispier and spicier, but the downside is that they only keep in the fridge for a few months. The canned pickles, on the other hand, are also good–though not quite as delicious as their refrigerator brethren–but they’re shelf-stable for years (not that they’ll last that long around here… ).
- Tomatoes: Both cherry and regular tomatoes came ripe this year and we eat these so quickly there’s no need (or opportunity!) to preserve them. Babywoods is especially a fan of our “may-may-ohs.”
Hot peppers: Not too many of our hot peppers came to fruition this year, so we’ll just eat these as they come ripe.
- Blackberries: Our property is graced with countless wild blackberry bushes, which produced in epic abundance last year. This year’s crop is a bit less robust, but I’m still picking a goodly number every day. We eat most of these immediately, but what we don’t consume goes into the freezer in gallon-sized ziplocks for wintertime consumption. No need to do anything fancy with them—they defrost as delicious, perfectly whole and wonderful berries. I know that some folks freeze berries laid out on a cookie sheet and then dump them into a bag, but I’m much too short on time/lazy for that and I find they do just fine frozen in a bag.
- Hazelnuts: Mr. FW discovered a number of wild hazelnut bushes ringing our driveway and he went through the rather laborious process of harvesting some. They’re currently drying out on a cookie sheet in a kitchen window awaiting processing. Next year we plan to plant cultivated hazelnuts too!
Fall (September to October):
- Apples: Apple trees both cultivated and wild dot our yard and property writ large and it’s looking like a bumper year for our apple crop. As I shared last week, we recently purchased a cider press and apple grinder in order to process our gallons upon gallons of apples and turn them into hard cider. We also eat apples straight from the tree and dehydrate them in our dehydrator to make delicious dried apples, which are the perfect toddler (and parent) snack. I freeze gallon-sized ziplocks of dried apples and mete them out throughout the year. The gargantuan quantity of apples our trees produce can only be fully processed via cider-making, so we’re looking forward to our first experience of this undertaking in September! There are billions of things you can do with apples–vinegar, applesauce, apple butter, apple jam, etc—but with the volume of apples we have, cider-making will utilize the most apples the quickest. More on this next month…
- Pumpkins: Mr. FW’s pumpkin crop is looking orange, round, and adorable. Hopefully these gourds will be ready for harvest in September or October.
As you may have noted, we haven’t made any jams or jellies from our various fruits, due primarily to the fact that we don’t often eat jams or jellies. In future years, I may make jams to give as gifts, but for this year, our canned rhubarb compote, dried apples, and canned pickles will serve in that role.
Preparations For Next Year
Late summer is also the time to–believe it or not–prepare for the next growing season! Mr. FW has had his eye on a derelict flower bed located to the right of our back porch with an idea to transform it into a perennial food bed, given its convenient location.
Our primary focus is on growing food–not flowers–so this plan got a vote of approval from the homestead planning committee (consisting of me and Mr. FW). To prepare this bed for planting next year, he first brush hogged it to the ground (using the tractor), then plowed the earth and finally, tilled it under. The final step is to sow a cover crop, such as buckwheat, until we can plant next season.
Mr. FW also brush hogged our upper field and lower field as well as several trails through the woods that are wide enough and flat enough to accommodate the tractor. Beating back this growth annually is important for any land that you want to keep cleared; otherwise, the forest will quickly overtake it and stamp out any semblance of trail. Most of our 66 acres are forested, which is how we like it, but it’s useful to have some cleared acreage.
It’s also true that initially clearing acreage from mature forest to bare earth is extraordinarily difficult and expensive. Hence, we aim to keep clear what’s already been cleared. We don’t have any immediate plans for our cleared upper field, but since it’s the only cleared land we have other than the two acres surrounding our house and barn, we work to keep it that way in light of the fact that cleared land can be a valuable asset.
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Onward to September, frugal comrades!