This Month On The Homestead: Seed Starting and Tree Clearing
Early March, with its balmier temperatures and reluctantly melting snow, set our minds towards spring. We foolishly began to discuss impending blooms and said reckless things like, “maybe we’ve had our last snow of the season.” Overhearing our misguided words, March retaliated in an effort to prove how wrong we were and dumped a righteous amount of snow.
It snowed daily, weekly, heavily. With gusto and vigor, the landscape was newly coated and freshly imbued with the mummification of snow. Deep as that snow was and lusty as each storm seemed, eventually bare ground will win out. Rounding the final days of March, mud began to take over our driveway and roads. Snow still coats most of the landscape, but mud is decidedly the upstart usurper.
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.
We almost let March slip past without this crucial chore in hand, preoccupied as we were with our new baby and new life as a family of four. But Mr. Frugalwoods rallied in the waning days of the month and got our vegetable seeds started! If you have no idea what seed starting is, you are in good company because before moving here, I too had no idea what seed starting was. Since we live in a cold climate (zone 4 for you garden aficionados) with a brief summer growing season, plants need to be started indoors and then transplanted into the garden once temperatures are amenable to not freezing them out.
Plants have a certain number of days they must grow in order to reach maturation and they typically can’t reach that required number of growing days here in Vermont if they’re planted outside once temperatures are warm enough. By planting seeds in tiny pots indoors, we’re able to grant them enough runway to germinate and mature in time for us to harvest tasty, tasty vegetables before–you guessed it–it gets cold again! The window between spring and fall is short.
The other reason to start seeds indoors is soil temperature. Hot weather plants, such as tomatoes and peppers, will only germinate when the soil is warm, which makes it almost impossible to plant them directly into the garden. By starting the seeds inside, we can control the temperature of the soil, which encourages germination early on.
This is our second year starting seeds indoors, so we feel like we have a slightly better handle on what we’re doing (although we will certainly still manage to misguidedly kill a large number of vegetables… ). Last year, you might recall we set up our seed starting apparatus in the upstairs bathroom.
This year, we decided to take over the bay window area of the kitchen as it gets better sunlight and is a more convenient spot for our mini gardener, Babywoods, to observe plant progress. Being excessively interested in doing whatever we’re doing these days, Babywoods was overjoyed to “help” Mr. FW plant some seeds. Imagine for a moment how tremendously useful it was to have a 2-year-old jamming teeny tiny seeds into small buckets full of dirt. Inside the house. Super useful. But she loved doing it and we want her to develop an appreciation for growing veggies, so I figure this is a good way to foster that. Never fear, the dirt consequently strewn all over the kitchen was ably swept up by none other than me… and there might be 1,000 tomatoes planted in one teeny pot, but we’ll sort that out later…
To encourage germination, we hung our grow lamp from the little wooden A-frame Mr. FW built for it last year (pictured above). We also have these heating pads underneath the pots to keep them toasty, which worked well last year. So far, we’ve started three varieties of cherry tomatoes, ground cherries, jalapeños, cayenne peppers, and Thai basil. In a few weeks, we’ll start cucumbers, peas, beans, pumpkins, sunflowers, and possibly some other stuff too.
Getting these little seeds started inside is imperative if we want them to come to full veggie fruition before fall. Fingers crossed this stuff germinates and grows! If it doesn’t, we’ll buy plant starts from a local farm. So all will not be lost, but, it would be lovely to grow our own plants from seed. In terms of cost, it’s only cheaper over time to start your own seeds, owing to the start-up costs of a grow lamp and heating pads. But, as with many things out here on the homestead, amortized over many years it is a cost savings. It’s also true that by starting your own plants, you can control what types of fertilizer and pest mitigation are applied. The downside to starting your own seeds is that sometimes things just don’t germinate (such as our jalapeños last year). Another upside? You have many more options since a nursery might only have a few different varieties of a vegetable, but starting from seed affords you a much larger selection. Before we started trying to grow our own vegetables in earnest, I thought you just sort of tossed some seeds into the ground and hoped for the best. How wrong I was!
I really should re-title this series “all the work Mr. FW did this month that I just write about” because those are the facts on the ground right now. One day I’ll be out there alongside him doing more of the physical labor of the homestead, but for now, I am focused on rearing the two tiny creatures we have.
My work is less interesting to write about–laundry, cleaning, nose-wiping, book reading, nursing, and toddler chasing–though no less important. While Mr. FW and I share childcare responsibilities, he is the director of outdoor management and I am the director of indoor management. Our paths cross often, especially since he does all of the cooking, but you can’t exactly wield a chainsaw with a baby on your back and a toddler underfoot… at least, it’s not recommended. And when Mr. FW watches the kids, I usually hike alone in the woods, which while enjoyable, is not really all that productive…
At any rate, Mr. FW devoted quite a bit of time this month to clearing away trees at the perimeter of one section of our yard as they were: 1) shading our apple trees; 2) shading a portion of our vegetable garden plot; 3) largely diseased and falling down. All in all, a patch of trees that needed to be felled. Of particular concern was a mess of black cherry trees that have black knot disease, which can affect plum trees (we have three that we’re trying desperately to keep alive). This wood will all make excellent firewood and it’s a good time of year to cut firewood as the leaves aren’t on the trees yet but the snow isn’t too deep, which makes it fairly easy to maneuver around in the woods. Mr. FW’s goal of having three years worth of firewood split and stacked is starting to seem achievable!
Blazing New Trails
Mr. FW also continued his efforts to build more hiking trails through our woods. Since it’s easier to see the contours of our land without leaves on the trees or scrubby undergrowth peppering the woods, Mr. FW’s been mapping out where old roads and paths intersect. This summer he’ll go back and clear out the fallen logs and underbrush to create more loops in our trail system. More on his trail building process is here.
Much as I adore our woodstove and the fact that we heat our home with wood from our land, fewer fires are a sure sign of a season change. At the beginning of March we were averaging three fires per day and we closed out the month at just one fire a day. This is a season of mixed emotions for me since I love the snug, cozy routines of winter but am also ready for warmth and an ability to go outside without a coat.
As I sit here at my kitchen table with Littlewoods snoozing in her infant carrier on my chest, looking out at a landscape dithering between snow and mud, I’m reminded of how ephemeral all of our experiences are. In a few months, this baby won’t be tucked in against me so tightly–she’ll be holding her head up, looking around, emerging from her cocoon of infanthood. And there’ll be no snow to conceal the imperfections of our undone projects, our incomplete tasks, and our revolving outdoor to do list. In a few months, there’ll be blaring sunshine and growing vegetables and bigger children. So for now, I will relish this moment of indeterminate season.
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Onward to April, frugal comrades!
How was March on your own personal homestead?
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Liz – What a lovely, vivid description of your rural Vermont winter!
I almost want to move there. It’s only “almost” because I’m a certifiable city-slicker urbanite. 🙂 My idea of rural is a trip to the burbs.
I finished reading your book that I got out of the library and I loved it! I found it so engrossing that I read it in less than 48 hours which is very rare for me.
I echo Mr. Freaky Frugal regarding your book. I recommended it to my local library and they bought it! I read it in a day and then turned to my hubby and told him that we need to get on the same page about finances! Thank you for helping us to have this conversation. I live north of Toronto and I woke up to snow this morning – when will it stop?! Love the blog and the book!
“all the work Mr. FW did this month that I just write about”
Haha! But you do a lot yourself Mrs. FW! Toddler chasing and baby raising are hard feats. Not to mention the book writing and blog managing. It’s a share of responsibilities that makes you guys such a diverse, goal driven couple.
Hi MRS FW….it is so long since I have lived in NE ( family was in Manchester by the Sea, brother is in Rangeley, ME) …but I remember the gardens my father created with some awe. As a teenager, I wanted no part in the process…and now, I love digging in the dirt, planting everything I can lay my hands on. LOVE your descriptions!
Like you, just when I thought winter was over, it came back with a vengeance: more snow and gusty wind. I am so, so tired of this winter. I don’t know if it’s because it’s colder and longer than the previous years, but hubby and I are seriously considering moving to a warmer state (for some other reasons as well).
At least, it’s April, and spring has no way but to come sooner or later. I just can’t wait for all the spring and summer fun!
I love the seed starting photos. Actually, I love all the photos always, but the seed ones are the little dose of spring I needed on this snowy morning! We actually held off a little bit this year. The past two years, I’ve gotten antsy and our seedlings outgrew their trappings so early that we had to plant them before that pesky last frost. There’s nothing better, though, than planning out gardens. I can practically taste the fruit and veggies! Wishing you a wonderful spring on the homestead.
I’m so ready for a new season as well. And while still cold and windy (I’m so tired of the wind) here, the daffodils and tulips have come out in force the last week. Spring is coming!
We are very much in the same boat, my husband does all the outdoor projects and I do the inside work because of the littles. I can’t wait for spring at this point tired of having to bundle everyone up before we head out, it takes for.ev.er.
Seeds started here in Maine too, my peppers have not shown any activity above ground yet so I am a little worried…we should have a bumper crop of tomatoes though!
Winter just doesn’t want to let go this year. We had snow in our neck of the woods earlier this week and have snow in the forecast for next week. Nothing quite says spring like a few inches of snow.
My wife (who has the green thumb in our family) also planted some seeds. The kids helped and everyone’s seeds are growing but the one they designated for me 🙁 It’s like they somehow know.
I think it’s so cool that you’re able to teach your kids visually where food comes from. We’ve joined a CSA and take our son to the farm on occasion which has been awesome. It’s not the same as seeding your own plants and watching them grow though.
March was shoveling, and hauling wood, and shoveling again. Sound familiar? But now, it’s on to cleaning up the yard, and flinging open windows and doors (even if only briefly) and saying Let it be Spring!
Your posts always motivate me to do more outdoorsy, physical things. I grew up very indoor and sedentary and it just doesn’t make me happy! We’re going to do a vegetable garden this year. As my husband is decidedly NOT outdoorsy, it’s just me and the kids tending to it. Now that they are 4 and 6, it is SO much easier to do things with them. It’s hard when they are little, but don’t get discouraged 🙂
Also, we’ve been passing your book around my debt-free group – we’re loving it!
You’re not alone in combating the blistery temps and conditions of March! Just yesterday we had a nice snow here in Michigan as well. Fingers crossed that it didn’t freeze out the peaches and apricots again this year.
One other nice thing about starting your own veggies beyond controlling fertilizer and pest management applications is that you have a much lower chance of receiving the wrong varieties. We’ve found that despite our best laid plans, buying young starts from a nursery runs a high risk of ending up with something that was mislabeled and was not the actual variety we may have so carefully researched or selected. This is a big deal for us as we’re pretty particular about the varieties in our orchard and garden, as we too live in a cold climate. So we usually go for late germinating / late blooming varieties to help combat late frosts.
We used to pick up our seeds via a standard mail-order catalog like Gurney’s with emergency replacements from local garden centers. But a few years ago Mrs. FFP ran across a non-profit organization named “Seed Savers Exchange” (SSE for short) based out of Iowa. They work to preserve heirloom garden vegetable varieties for those who would like to help protect heirloom seed varieties and/or steer clear of seed varieties which are GMO’s. Their “About Us” states that in the last century, 75% of edible plants have become extinct. They work as a seedbank to protect, steward, and spread those that remain in the name of biodiversity.
Best of luck on the starts this year! Hopefully Babywoods has as much fun watering and weeding in the years to come as she does planting now! :)
these are always my favorite posts. I live vicariously through your adventures. I hope the veggie garden is even more plentiful this year. Also, I’m curious to hear more about the mapping process of the trails–is there any software your husband uses or is it just by hand?
I moved to Minneapolis this week so I get the whole snow thing. I moved in with 8 inches of beautiful, fluffy, heavy wet snow falling. Navigating a 16′ box truck with that much snow on narrow city roads was interesting, for sure. And now that it’s April, the weathermen are calling for more snow later this week. Joy!
Oh wow–I do not envy you driving that truck in the snow! Glad you made it safely and congrats on the move 🙂
It’s still snowing like hell here in Collingwood, Ontario, and I believe we’ve been sending some of that your way – sorry about that! Following the Frugalwoods longing for spring and indoor planting exactly matches a book I’ve been reading and recommended on this site: “The Good Life” by Helen and Scott Nearing. Originally published in 1954, and updated in 1989, this wonderful book tells of sixty years of self-sufficient living. Elizabeth has a much lighter and more readable style, but taken in in the context of the times in which this was written, “The Good Life” takes us on the same journey – the same message that spring means the renewal of life and hope.
My husband has tray after tray of seedlings already going and up-potted, because we have to get our plants in the ground and mature before it gets too hot! Tomatoes, for instance, are basically done in June here in Florida. Only a few brave cherry tomatoes hang on through the summer. Hot peppers will take the heat of summer, but how many of those can we eat?
I love the picture of that sweet girl seriously planting those seeds with her dad. There is something special about seeing a child learning about gardening, isn’t there? I love the photos we have of our then-pre-schooler and toddler dragging buckets as big as they were, picking ripe tomatoes from our garden. So maybe we had to fry a few green ones that got picked– the learning and experience is what is important for them.
That’s too funny! You have the exact opposite weather problem as us!
Check out your Vermont extension service through the University of Vermont. https://www.uvm.edu/extension
I live in Colorado and have used our extension service online through my alma mater, Colorado State University. These sites are unbelievable resources for you in all areas. You can even call them with specific questions about anything to do with your homestead. They will research it and provide you expert answers. All free and part of the program. I know you’ll become a huge fan. I would think most states have extension services like this so search out your state for the site.
Yes! We are big fans of extension schools! We refer to them a lot for gardening and canning recipes 🙂
We started our seeds indoors in March too! I was hoping some of our older seeds would germinate this year, but it seeems many of our 3 year old packets are past their useful life. Fortunately, we did succeed with some, and our jalapeños, cauliflower, and many tomato varieties are looking great.
Loved the poetic nature of this post! Since this is our first year as homeowners, it’s also the first year we’ve started growing vegetables and flowers from seed in earnest, and, while exciting, it’s definitely got me a little worried, hoping that our own weather will cooperate and be warm enough in a couple weeks to plant our seeds outdoors since they’re already getting quite big! I’m also a little nervous because, like you, I had a toddler helping me plant everything, which meant that a lot of our seeds were super close together, and I’ve never thinned any out before. But I just keep reminding myself that I can also always buy stuff at a local nursery if worse comes to worse, so…fingers crossed for both of us!
(And we’re also in a Zone 4, so I feel ya!)
Good luck with your toddler plants :)! I’m hoping their exuberance will translate into encouraging the plants to thrive… 😉
Is a city apartment a homestead? No idea. But I am deeply pleased to report that, following inspiration from my Uber Frugal Month journey in December, I got my new gas boiler, one new radiator and new heating controls installed between 14 and 19 March. The energy rating for my place improved from C2 to B2 – a massive jump, which will likely also improve the resale value of my home. I expect my natural gas bills to halve (there was a LOT wrong with the old installation!). I would not have tackled this project for several more years without UFM, so I feel thanks are due to you!
I am now doing additional repairs which are not generating a return on investment, but also needed to be done. In this context, if you feel like writing about it, since it falls into your preaching against perfectionism: I was astonished to have to argue at length with my floor repair guy. I had some damaged tiles which I wanted replaced, and he was mortified that he could not produce the *exact* matching colour. That is no surprise at all in terms of batch production etc., and the existing floor is 14 years old. The colour he did have blends in very subtly and nicely and is perfectly appropriate. It’s just a tiny shade lighter. But I had to argue with him until I was blue in the face about the difference between a damaged-looking floor (which I didn’t want) and a repaired-looking floor (which was fine with me). This is stuff you can see in any old church or historical building and I personally think it adds character as much as anything else. However, I needed to repeat my instruction to him to use the tiles three times before he would finally do it! This made me really wonder about the perfectionism of his other clients.
I should perhaps clarify that at no time did Mr Floor Guy even mention replacing the entire floor, i.e. he was not trying to upsell to me in any way. He was just genuinely mortified that he couldn’t provide the right colour, and refused to believe that this was fine with me.
Do you have plans to expand to build a greenhouse for seed starting in the future?
Also, when you hike, do you listen to music, take photos, or is it more about the quiet mindfulness of it? I find unless I’m with someone else, I prefer music or photography with my hiking, so was curious :).
We are trying to plant vegetables this year in a small plot. We just bought started plants from Lowes. Florida weather means a longer growing season, but there’s a lot more watering involved. We’ll see if we get anything at all this year… My flowers are big and bushy, though 🙂
We started seeds last month because we have much warmer weather. As I was attempting to transition them outside to harden them off, they stayed out a little too long and most of them got sunburned and died. Here is hoping you have better luck.
I’m very ready for winter to be over… but it just snowed yesterday and is about to snow more mid-month! I can’t wait to put plants in the ground and see what happens, but I guess I have to wait a few more weeks. Good luck with planting!
I never thought that a chainsaw accident would happen to me but it did a couple weeks ago. Fortunately it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been but it was plenty bad enough. I was only about 100 yards from our house and was able to get myself up to the house and have my wife call 911. I know Mr. FW is safe, trained, and has the right protective equipment, but again, no one thinks a chainsaw or tractor accident is going to happen to them and yet they happen. Do you all have a way to communicate if something were to happen while he was in the woods cutting or clearing? Do you know how far away your local EMS is? Do they know how to get to you? Something to think about.
Thank you Liz, for sharing your wisdom about savoring the moments. BTW, you recently posted a pic in which you were wearing those red flats. You’ve been wearing those darling little red flats for years!! Way to lead! Well done!!
Haha, thank you! Yes, those red flats have been with me for quite awhile! A great $15 purchase at Target many years ago (and I have the same shoes in black and brown too!)
Cool! Not to top you but I have a plaid wrap skirt from the 70s I still wear. Frugality lifts my spirit and makes me smile.
Happy Spring! (Haha, almost!). We’re starting to see a little ground underneath the patches of snow that have melted here in New Hampshire. The sun’s even deigned to appear and I believe I’ve heard some birds chirping. Exciting to get the seeds started! I’m impressed that Babywoods is restrained enough that she doesn’t knock them over! My older kids have regularly knocked our seedlings down. 🙂
What do you mean when you say three fires a day? I live in a cool winter area and we keep the fire going all day in winter. Do you let your fire go out and re light ?
I was wondering the same. Can you imagine all that kindling? And the three years of firewood, the wood boring insects will love that and then be introduced into the house. I would also be concerned that the hyper dry wood would go up in a flash and actually be less effective at longer term heat. But not my house or my goals!
The snow pics are awesome, especially the trail pic. Very nice!
I’ve found that germinating seeds in damp paper towels and plastic bags works really well, especially for slow-germinating, heat-loving plants like jalepeños and other peppers, eggplants and squash. There’s a ton of info and videos on the process online. It’s super easy and pretty foolproof. Once the seeds have germinated, just plant them in shallow soil and voila!
I planted wild strawberries in our tiny backyard a few years ago. Though she ate them last year, I’m excited to have my toddler pick some with me this year! Feels so far away though as it snowed again last night. Lol
I live in Colorado where the growing season is short too, though not as short as yours I’m sure. I’ve got my little greenhouse full of little sprouts right now and I’m starting more this weekend. You’re right, starting from seed gives you so many options outside of what the local nursery has, and at a fraction of the cost. I’m trying purple Hungarian peppers this year and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to purchase that variety!
I remember when my kids were small and liked “helping” me plant too. Aww, makes me miss those little hands!
Today I’ve been read May Sarton’s Journal of Solitude. Her life in rural Vermont reminds me so much of life for the Frugglewoods and reflects my rural life here in Tennessee. Sarton’s book. Plant Dreaming Deep is a pure gem about her move to Vermont and her relationship with her home. A must read for those who love a quiet life in nature.
We are going into the opposite growing season here in Australia. I’ve just taken on a community garden plot and am busy trying to clear the weeds and grass to get some things in the soil before things cool down. Luckily for me we are having unseasonably warm weather so hopefully there will be time to get things going before the soil cools too much and frosts become imminent. We recently moved to a different climate which is a lot colder (for australia) than I’m used to for growing so I’ll be doing a lot more starting of seeds inside when the time comes to get a head start on the season next summer. Luckily I’ll just need a sunny spot rather than lights or heat pads but it’ll be a different garden planning.
I hope your seeds give you some germination results. It’s so satisfying to grow things from seed when you can. Good luck. Look forward to living vicariously through your planting and harvesting as things wind down over here.
Hi! I have a question about a past post about a gravel delivery. It said you had gravel delivered for your driveway for $65 dollars. Do you have any advice on how to find a deal like that for gravel delivery? My partner and I are wannabe homesteaders on a private road in NY and desperately need to lay down some gravel after this year’s weather. Any info is greatly appreciated, thanks!
I think it’s probably a question of asking around your town/community. Our gravel was delivered by our neighbor who has a plowing business. I find a lot of things are word-of-mouth in our town and you may find the same in yours. Good luck :)!
Thanks for the post on seed starting. I also just started my seeds for the year last week in our three-season room, though I do not use a heat lamp or pads. (I am in Zone 4/5 myself, so ditto on the short growing season, but I have had good luck starting seeds in the three-season room if I stick with certain plants. We will see how that goes this year.) Enjoy the blog, and I just read your book as well as your friend’s book The Year of Less. I consider you a far more hardcore frugal cousin! (Think of me as Frugal Lite, Urban Style)
Are you familiar with Robert Moor’s book “On Trails: An Exploration”? This post made me think of it.
Don’t think that your readers aren’t interested in “laundry, cleaning, nose-wiping, book reading, nursing, and toddler chasing”. They are all part of life in general, and frugal life on a homestead. I would love to read more about your thoughts on these topics.
We are moving towards our first winter in our new home. I’m working on making some changes in our back hallway so I can place some clothes racks around the back of our wood fire, allowing me to dry clothes through the winter without having our lounge room (with the front of the fireplace) taken over by washing for a family of five. Wish me luck! I’m sure that at some point the lounge room will be taken over by drying sheets when a larger space is required.