This Month On The Homestead: Hermit-Making Temperatures Followed By Snow
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.
December blew in a fury of temperatures so cold we started to think of anything above zero as “warm.” The month began without a scrap of snow, a fact I wouldn’t believe if I hadn’t taken the photo at right on December 1. This happened last year too, so I’m starting to think of December as the demarcation between the crackle of late fall and the snow-muffle of winter.
By the end of the month, we had several feet of snow lounging around, languidly draped over firs and blackberry vines, coating rooftops and concealing all the sins of undone summer and fall projects. Everything is dormant under these constantly replenishing layers. All the gardening we didn’t do, all the fences we didn’t mend (I mean this in a literal sense), all the bare earth that wasn’t planted. All hidden now. In this way, snow is the great absolution maker. The equalizer. And our master for the next few months.
As my previous words might’ve implied, the thing about having a lot of snow is that you then must clear a lot of snow. And by “you” I mean my husband and by “a lot of snow” I mean a veritable deluge. One of the more
frustrating intriguing elements of our homestead is that we have a quarter-mile long, hilly driveway, which is our sole responsibility to maintain as it’s not shared with anyone else.
This is totes not a problem most of the year and it’s not a problem in the winter, more a representation of a great deal of work. When we moved here, we made the decision to ensure that we could maintain our driveway ourselves to avoid incurring the ongoing cost of hiring someone to manage it for us, which, as it turns out, is a largely year-round affair:
- In warmer and rainier months, the driveway must be graded and any ruts that develop as a result of rain must be flattened out.
- In the summer, the driveway needs to be crowned, which means making the center of the driveway higher than the edges so that rain sheets off the sides and into the ditch, as opposed to pooling in the center of the driveway, thus creating more ruts.
- At any time of year, trees have a penchant for falling across the driveway and must be cleared by Mr. FW via chainsaw.
- And then in the winter, snow must be snowblown off the driveway to allow us to drive in and out of our home. It’s an interesting proposition to know that you can’t leave your home unless you remove your snow.
All of this work can be done with a tractor and fortunately, the previous owners of our home included their tractor in the sale of the property, which was a fabulous decision for us. A tractor, as it turns out, is a remarkably useful tool when one lives on 66 acres of wild, wild woods. For all you tractor enthusiasts out there, we have a Kubota L4400 with a hydrostatic transmission, a 45 horsepower 3-cylinder diesel engine, four-wheel drive, R4 tires, and H-bar chains on the rear tires, which are filled. In case you’re wondering, in addition to doing all of the above work (not to mention serving as Mr. FW’s logging and trail-building companion), the tractor is the best toddler entertainment device the world has ever seen. Riding on the tractor, discussing the tractor, touching the tractor, watching the tractor, walking out to the barn to visit the tractor… two-year-old Babywoods gets a lot of mileage out of this machine.
Our Beast Of A Snowblower
Now back to the issue at hand: snow! We have an MK Martin 72-inch pull-type snowblower, which attaches to the back of the tractor. Weighing in at 900 pounds, this snowblower is a beast that’s rather difficult to take on and off the tractor, so Mr. FW tries to only make the switch once a year. He has to line up the tractor precisely to where the blower is in order to attach it and there’s very little room for error.
Our other tractor attachments (box blade, tiller, bush hog, and grader blade) aren’t as heavy and are able to be moved around a tad in order to join up with the tractor. Not so much the blower. The snowblower receives its power from the tractor as its gearbox is connected to the power take off (or PTO) of the tractor. In addition to the obvious application of the snowblower to clear the driveway of snow, Mr. FW also uses the tractor’s bucket to move snow around as needed; in particular, to dig out around our mailbox.
If the snow isn’t too deep, Mr. FW can drive the tractor (with snowblower attached) at about 5-6 MPH, but when the snow gets deep, he has to go at a much slower pace. In addition to the driveway itself, his clearing regime includes making a path across our yard from where our cars are parked, past our front door and down to the barn. This allows us to easily walk to our cars and barn and also gives Frugal Hound a nice path to traverse on her walks as greyhounds are not exactly adept at (or happy about) walking in deep snow.
Speaking of our cars, we don’t have a garage as is the case with most Vermont homes, so Mr. FW also removes snow from the cars and then moves the cars themselves in order to blow away the snow from underneath the cars. It’s in our plans to build a garage in the next few years to reduce the wear and tear of winter on our vehicles and also the inherent hassle of clearing snow off of them. Anyone want to come over and help us build it :)?
All told, if Mr. FW does what he terms a “really thorough job” of clearing the driveway, the mailbox, the cars, and our walking paths through the yard, the whole process takes him a full two hours. But if we just need a quick clearing in order to drive out of the driveway, the minimum viable option takes around 25 minutes or less. I also must toot Mr. FW’s horn as he is markedly faster at clearing this year than he was last year. He likens it to mowing the lawn in that the first time you do it, you have to test out different patterns and pathways, but after a few mows, you know the best and most efficient routes.
The Upsides Of Clearing One’s Own Snow
The overarching pros of doing all this snow removal ourselves is the saved money and also the convenience. We had to hire someone to plow our driveway for us once last winter when we were out of town and it cost a whopping $75. For one plow. Not including clearing around our cars or the pathways in front of our house. So far, in the month of December alone, Mr. FW cleared our driveway eight different times. In a single month. Of one single winter. If we were paying someone to do this work for us, we’d be out $600 for December alone! Hence, despite the start-up costs of plowing for ourselves and the ongoing maintence of the tractor as well as the labor hours, we feel like we come out ahead.
Perhaps more crucially, we have control over when our driveway is plowed. Conversely if we hired someone, we’d be at the mercy of their plow schedule, which might not align with when we want to leave the house. A great example of this came a few Sundays ago when Mr. FW was able to plow us out at circa 7am on a Sunday so that we could go to church that morning. Not exactly a typical plowing time for a plow company.
There’s also profound peace of mind in knowing that we’re in control of our own driveway, primarily in light of the fact that we have a second baby on the way. In the event that I go into labor in the middle of the night in the middle of a snowstorm, Mr. FW can hop on the tractor and have us ready to drive out in 30 minutes. Ideal for my pregnant peace of mind.
It’s also true that clearing our own snow is an element of the self-sufficiency and self-reliance we hope to embody through our lives out here. We’re not yet terribly self-sufficient in many areas related to homesteading, but it’s nice to know we’re working in that direction by insourcing as many tasks as we can.
Perhaps most importantly of all, Mr. FW enjoys driving his tractor. It is, as he describes it, “a thrumming diesel engine” that he gets a kick out of maneuvering. So if that’s not living the dream, I don’t know what is ;). In all seriousness, we chose this lifestyle in part due to my husband’s enduring love of heavy machinery and equipment so who am I to deprive the man? And I’ll be honest, the tractor IS really fun to drive… (if you come help us build our garage, we’ll let you drive it).
The Joy Of, And Need For, Community In Winter
Despite these hermit-making temperatures and incessant need to clear snow out of our pathways, we were some social creatures last month! One of the most rewarding, fulfilling, and joyous elements of our rural life is the intergenerational community of friends and neighbors we’ve become part of. December, being a month of merriment and festivity, gave us many opportunities to get together. Back in the city, we had friends who we greatly enjoyed spending time with, but we didn’t have a true community life. Out here, where everything (even weddings!) is a potluck and age is immaterial to who your friends are and neighbors just drop by your house to say hello, we’ve discovered what we didn’t know we were missing: a vibrant community.
Creating and fostering these connections was an important part of our move out here and it fills me with happiness to no end that we’ve been able to integrate into community life. Before we moved out to these wild, wild woods, I worried that we’d be lonely or friendless or just plain isolated. Now, however, I’m delighted to report that our experience is the exact opposite. I’m overwhelmed at how friendly everyone is, how often we get together with friends and neighbors, and how unrelentingly helpful everyone is.
A great example is the upcoming birth of our second baby. If we were having a second kid in the city and didn’t have family members nearby, I’d be panicking about what we’d do with Babywoods and Frugal Hound. Out here, however, we have a vast network of people willing to help us out and who’ve repeatedly told us to call in the middle of the night and that they’ll be right over. I am deeply grateful and deeply relieved since I fully intend on taking them up on their offers.
Frugality is, of course, interwoven in this fabric of community life as we all do favors for one another, lend stuff back and forth, provide meals for each other, and just generally help out our neighbors. The ethos of barter and trade is alive and well out here and it’s something we greatly appreciate about rural living. But if you don’t live rurally, don’t despair! According to a ton of Frugalwoods readers, barter and trade is alive and well in all parts of the country (and world). Read all about it here and learn how to incorporate this community-minded ethos into your own life: How Barter and Trade Enhances Frugality and Community.
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.
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Onward to January, frugal comrades!
How was December on your own personal homestead?
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