This Month On The Homestead: A Full Woodshed, Evolving as Gardeners, Plus a Pumpkin

September 2019

Glamour shedding it up

As you saw in our expense report, September turned us away from summer, pushed us into fall, and forced us to reckon with the inevitability of winter.

We started the month with monochromatic green and ended in a riot of leaf colors. September makes us hustle. Dropping temperatures rob us of our languid summertime pace and Mr. Frugalwoods and I rushed from garden to kitchen to firewood, each task feeling immediate and necessary and unable to be put off.

There’s much to do before the snow flies, so we’re content to accelerate our days. We know that once we’re blanketed in white, there’ll be nothing left to do outside (other than, ya know, clear mountains of snow).

Welcome to my 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 here. Wondering if it’s less expensive to live rurally? Check out: City vs. Country: Which Is Cheaper? The Ultimate Cost Of Living Showdown.

Vegetable Garden Harvest Time: Learning As We Go

Mr. FW and Kidwoods on a hike in our woods

Since you gamely slogged through last month’s rundown of how we started, planted and maintained our vegetable garden, I will reward you with tales of the glorious harvest. Glorious might be an overstatement, but we’re pretty pleased with ourselves.

Every year we live here–this’ll be our fourth–we learn more and we do more:

  • Part of it is that we gain experience with each season
  • Part of it is that my husband and I have embraced that a to-do list is never done on a homestead (and I do mean NEVER)
  • Part of it is that our kids are older and able to entertain themselves outside while we work (I mean, sort of… this one is a work in progress)
  • Part of it is that we’ve refined our labors to focus on our highest priorities

This last point is especially salient in relation to our vegetable garden. We’ve grown quite a few different things over the years and each year, we’ve planted different things, preserved different things, and grown as gardeners.

The Evolution of Our Gardening from 2016 to 2019

Summer 2016

In our first garden season, right after moving here in May 2016, we focused on stuff we could harvest and eat right away. We planted tomatoes, basil, oregano, rosemary, sage, peppers, spinach, arugula, mesclun mix, brussels sprouts, and squash.

Our 2016 vegetable garden

Most of it died because it was planted late and also because we had no idea what we were doing. That might’ve had something to do with it. The rest came ripe all at the same time and we were faced with oversupply. We weren’t yet literate in canning and preserving, so a lot of these veggies were given away or composted.

Another crucial failure that first summer: allocating our efforts out of alignment with our priorities.

For example, I spent untold hours harvesting and weeding the rhubarb and then didn’t know what to do with the harvested stalks. I made pies, compote, and froze chopped rhubarb, but I did all this essentially in vain since, as it turns out, Mr. FW and I don’t love how the compote tastes and you can only eat so many pies. Based on that lesson, I didn’t even bother to harvest the rhubarb last year or this year. It’s a perennial, so it’ll chug along in the garden without my ministrations and I don’t feel a mandate to do anything with it.

Summer 2017

2017 veggie garden: our first year in our new plot

Older and ever-so-slightly wiser, we tilled a new garden patch near our lower field to eliminate some of our lawn grass and create a larger, dedicated growing space.

We took a scattershot approach and planted: kale, chard, tomatoes, bush and pole beans, cucumbers, arugula, asparagus, dill, cilantro, rosemary, sage, thyme, hot peppers, and sugar pumpkins. This was essentially a “throw it against the wall and see what sticks” methodology to determine what’s reasonable to grow in our soil and climate (we’re in plant hardiness zone 4 for you gardening aficionados).

Here’s what we did with that bounty:

  • We tried canning for the first time and made pickles from the cucumbers, which were delicious!
  • We also pickled the beans, which were not so delicious.
  • There weren’t enough tomatoes or hot peppers for preservation, so we just ate those as they ripened.
  • We cooked the sugar pumpkins in a stew and they tasted awful. Certifiably terrible.
  • The kale and chard both performed well and we ate them in stir fries all summer as they came ripe. There wasn’t enough surplus for preservation.

Summer 2018

Me + a baby pool of kale and chard

Feeling more confident after the relative successes of 2017, we decided to double down on the veggies that performed well the previous year: kale, chard, cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers. “Doubled down” does not encapsulate what we did–tripled or quadrupled down is more apt. We had the mentality that if some kale was nice, 80 kale plants would be even better! Wrong.

We were waaaaaaay too successful in our growing that season and had:

  • Rivers of kale and chard. We could’ve built houses entirely from kale and woven cloaks from chard for everyone in our town. It was an avalanche of greens.
  • Roughly 8,907 cucumbers, which we harvested and made into 75 quarts of pickles (that’s not an exaggeration, we actually made seventy-five quarts of pickles). What were we thinking?!?
  • Snap peas: these mostly died, but we ate what lived when it came ripe. There weren’t enough to preserve.
  • Ground cherries: we were happily eating these as they ripened until a squirrel cottoned onto our plans and ate every last ground cherry.
  • Cherry tomatoes: we didn’t plant enough. We consumed them fresh off the vine and I dehydrated some, but we wished we had more.

2018 was a case of oversupply, which taught us to:

  1. Plant and grow things that are manageable to harvest and preserve
  2. Only preserve our annual consumption of each vegetable (i.e. 75 quarts of pickles is overkill)

The primary issue: kale and chard are massively time-consuming to harvest, wash, blanch, and freeze. It became a Sisyphean task to keep up with these plants and, ultimately, we gave up. We also made kimchi from the chard and kale, which Mr. FW dubbed Kimchardashian (you’re welcome) and pickled the chard stems, which I do NOT recommend from the perspective that they tasted horrible.

Pickles in process

Entire days were lost to harvesting and preserving these greens because kale and chard have a very short shelf life. We couldn’t harvest and then preserve another day–it all had to happen on the same day, which is exhausting when you’re doing everything with at least one kid strapped to your back and another kid underfoot munching kale leaves.

We gave away a lot of kale, chard, and cucumbers to our friends and neighbors, but still, a surplus remained.

The cucumbers weren’t as challenging since they’re much easier to harvest, wash, and pickle. But we WAY overdid it on the pickles. While we use some jars for gifts every year, we do not need 75 jars of pickles annually. A hard lesson to learn a hard way. I gave away a bunch of pickles this fall and the remainder (34 jars) will serve as our supply for this winter.

Summer 2019

Given our experience in 2018, you can guess which three things we did not plant this year: kale, chard, and cucumbers. We might do pickles again next summer, but I’m not sure we’ll be recovered enough to try kale and chard again… ever. Wanting to hone in on stuff that’s easier to harvest, process, and that we’re likely to consume, the theme of this year’s garden was: tomatoes!

2019 = A Focus On Food Preservation

We’ve discovered we’re most interested in growing veggies that lend themselves to quick and efficient longterm preservation. While we do eat some of the bounty immediately, we want to maximize the garden’s annual production by preserving it to see us through the winter. The growing season in Vermont (without a green house) is too short to supply year-round garden-to-table vegetable dreams.

Our linen closet covering the garden to protect the tender veggies from frost

We harvested everything remaining in the garden prior to our first hard freeze on October 8th, so the gardening season is officially over. We were able to keep everything going until this hard freeze by draping the plants in blankets and sheets during a frost that rolled through in late September. We cloaked our tomato plants in comforters and blankets.

Using clothes pins we made fitted sheets fit over basil. And for the hot pepper plants? Pillowcases, of course. Each one a testament to how full our linen closet is and how deranged we are to garden in this cold, cold climate.

At one point during the plant-cloaking, we lost track of Littlewoods and found her nesting underneath a sheet, munching on cherry tomatoes. Kidwoods was our clothes pin monitor and managed to clothes pin herself to a sheet and onto a basil leaf. The next morning we found frost atop these covers and the plants were a-ok.

This year’s garden roll call:

2019 vegetable garden

Tomatoes:

  • Number of plants: 144 (a combo of cherry, saladette, paste, slicers, and a mystery seed packet)
  • Growing results: they did awesome, given our conditions. The challenge is that our summers aren’t terribly hot and the tomatoes would clearly benefit from a longer growing season and warmer temperatures.
  • Harvest rating: super easy to harvest and they don’t need to be processed right away. They can sit on the counter until we have a chance to get to them. Plus, they can be harvested before they’re fully ripe and then ripened on the counter or inside paper bags. This is excellent as it allows us mete out the preservation work over time and not condense it into one frenzied day. We currently have a ton of partially-ripe tomatoes in our kitchen that were harvested prior to the hard freeze.
  • Preservation: A+ (so far). I’m dehydrating all of the cherry tomatoes (in my dehydrator) and Mr. FW is making and canning tomato sauce from the bigger pastes and slicers. All in all, it seems like this wasn’t too many tomato plants for us to keep up with. I’ll do a final assessment after we’ve finished preserving the still-ripening tomatoes.

Hot Peppers:

  • Number of plants: 40 (a combination of early jalapeño and cayenne)
  • Growing results: they did very well but, much like the tomatoes, would benefit from a longer growing season and warmer temperatures.
  • Harvest rating: super easy to harvest and they don’t need to be processed right away. They can sit on the counter until we have a chance to get to them.
  • Preservation: TBD. Mr. FW plans to make and can hot sauce, so we’ll see how that pans out. At present, there are heaps of peppers on our kitchen countertop. Yum.

Littlewoods assisting with the ground cherry harvest + quality control taste tests

Ground Cherries:

  • Number of plants: 12
  • Growing results: excellent; they produced abundantly.
  • Harvest rating: decent to harvest, but a bit time-consuming as you have to lift up the leaves of each plant and search around for the ripe cherries (helpfully, they fall off the plant when they’re ripe). A real benefit of the ground cherries is that the kids can help harvest them.
  • Preservation: nil, we ate them fresh as they came ripe. The kids love them and they seem to have a fairly long shelf life. If anyone has any ground cherry preservation ideas, please let me know in the comments!

Okra:

  • Number of plants: 12
  • Growing results: sub-par. Okra do not appear to like Vermont. We harvested a few ripe pods, but overall, they bombed.
  • Harvest rating: easy to harvest.
  • Preservation: currently in our freezer. Mr. FW will defrost and cook them at some point.

Lettuce Leaf Basil:

  • Number of plants: lots.
  • Growing results: fabulous! We’ve been trying to grow basil every year and we finally hit the jackpot. This lettuce leaf basil did excellently.
  • Harvest rating: easy.
  • Preservation: nil; we ate it fresh atop just about everything all summer. We discussed making pesto, but never got around to it… Maybe next year!

Lime basil:

  • Number of plants: lots.
  • Growing results: ok. It didn’t do as well as the lettuce leaf basil. It smells lime-like but doesn’t really taste like lime.
  • Harvest rating: the leaves are small, so harvesting is a pain.
  • Preservation: nil.

Littlewoods sizing up our prize pumpkin

Pumpkins:

  • Number of plants: five
  • Growing results: decent. One of the pumpkins plumped up beautifully and has a deep orange glow. I harvested it the other day and it’ll be our Halloween jack o’ lantern. I also harvested two pumpkins that remained small, but did turn orange and make lovely little decorative gourds. The rest died.
  • Harvest rating: easy and the kids loved helping.
  • Preservation: jack o’lantern plans are in progress. After eating (and not enjoying) our pumpkins in 2017, we plan to grow pumpkins exclusively for fall harvest decor.

Watermelon and Cantaloupe:

  • Number of plants: two of each.
  • Growing results: poor. Very poor. I don’t think the cantaloupe ever germinated. Two minuscule watermelons grew, but some varmint made off with them before we could harvest them.
  • Harvest rating: unknown.
  • Preservation: unknown.

We’re still working to identify our annual consumption of preserved foods, so I’m going to make a spreadsheet of everything we’ve preserved this summer/fall to track what gets eaten, what runs out, and what’s leftover at this time next year. More than anything else, that data will calibrate our plans for our 2020 vegetable garden.

Firewood Splittin’ and Stackin’: The Woodshed Filleth Up

September saw a landmark accomplishment: our three-bay, nine cord capacity woodshed is full.

The woodshed is officially full! Kids for scale.

Before we moved here, my husband told me that his goal was to be three years ahead on wood. I had no idea what he was talking about because we’d never heated a home with wood before (point in fact, we’d mostly lived in apartments in cities). Now that I have three Vermont winters under me, now that I understand our reliance on the wood stove, now that I appreciate the abundance of our forest, I know.

And on September 2, 2019, it happened. Mr. Frugalwoods felled, skidded, bucked, split, and stacked the final logs to fill our woodshed–the woodshed he designed and built last summer.  He also added a support under one of the beams on the woodshed because the 2×8 had a knot in it, which weakened it and was starting to buckle under the weight of the wood. It appears to be performing fine with this additional support.

We’re now three years ahead on wood. Each bay of the shed holds three cords of wood, which is what we burn in a year. All three bays together hold nine cords, which equals three years’ worth. This wood right here is what’ll keep us warm this winter, next winter, and the winter after that.

Mr. FW in a well-deserved victory pose with his shed

I’m proud of my husband for doing this. I’m proud of him for taking a course on chainsaw safety, for learning to effectively identify and fell trees. Proud of him for learning to skid trees with our tractor, to cut logs and split them. Proud of how demanding the physical labor is to haul and cut and stack wood that’s heavier than me.

I’m proud that he learned to do all of this and that he does it after he’s done with his day job, on the weekends, in the early mornings, before dinner. Log by log, he nurtures and tends our forest, harvests trees to ensure forest growth and diversity, and puts in the hours to make it happen. In one sense, heating with wood is “free.”

In another sense, heating with wood costs hundreds of hours of time and brutal labor. But in another sense, heating with wood is a way to bind yourself to nature. It’s a way to appreciate and understand how a forest grows. It’s a way to express gratitude to trees. It’s a way to warm yourself three times: once when you cut the wood, once when you stack it, and once when you burn it. It’s a way to not take heat for granted. It’s a way to not take nature for granted.

(this section was adapted from an Instagram post of mine)

A Good Old Fashioned Frame Raising, the County Fair, and the Farmer’s Market

The frame raising underway!

Beyond the perimeter of our property, I find love, warmth, and community in our tiny town. We’re grateful to enmesh our lives with our neighbors, thankful for the deep friendships we’ve created, and in love with raising our children here.

We feel so lucky to live among such welcoming, sharing, community-minded folks. To that end, we (and particularly Mr. FW) often find ourselves helping a neighbor with one project or another and, in September, he spent a day at a frame-raising party.

Just like it sounds, just like in children’s picture books of idyllic country life of old, Mr. FW and a bunch of neighbors worked to raise the frame of a neighbor’s new home. All day long, they labored away, driving screws, hauling boards, and hammering. There was–of course–a potluck lunch, ice cream, and children capering around.

I love living in a place where you can ask your neighbors to come help you build a house and they come. They don’t expect to be paid. They just expect to be part of a community with you.

The County Fair

We went to the local county fair in September and I’ll excerpt from my Instagram post about that experience:

Kidwoods at the county fair last month

I took Kidwoods on her first carousel ride. She gripped that painted horse and I gripped her and around and around we went. This was her first ride of any sort and she wore a look of disbelief. She kept turning to me, opening and closing her mouth, smiling in awe. Wordless–rare for her–and so fully, completely immersed in that moment. The entire fair brought that magic for me.

Little kids led teams of oxen for the junior oxen pull, folks drove their vintage tractors to show, prize-winning watermelons and pumpkins crowded into the display hall alongside tomatoes and zucchini and baskets of award-winning hay. We watched the dairy costume class, where kids ages 10 and under dressed in matching costumes with their calves (tablecloths appear to make ideal cow-outfits).

Wandering through the swine hall, we saw snuggling piglets and Littlewoods just looked and looked in wonder that so many people exist in this world. Then we had a snack and the day was done for us; it was 1pm. Kidwoods fell asleep in the car; Littlewoods soon after. A morning at the fair is all they could handle, is all they needed.

The Farmer’s Market

Somehow I volunteered to help out at the local Farmer’s Market one Friday, which I’ll also excerpt from Instagram:

We volunteered at the farmer’s market and were a disaster. Pretty sure we did none of the assigned responsibilities and mostly were a mess. But the girls were ecstatic. Kidwoods commandeered the markers (meant for the raffle tickets) and colored away. Littlewoods scowled at the market patrons who leaned in to smile at her. We finally abandoned our post to go to the bouncy house.

Garden harvesting assistant

Thankfully my friend happened to have a booth nearby so I left Littlewoods in her care while Kidwoods and I spun around and around in the bouncy house–both of us rendered the same age in our socks and dresses. Dizzy and exhausted, we scrambled out and got ice cream while Littlewoods was still deep in conversation with our neighbor.

I can’t fully explain what it’s like to live in such a small town. I didn’t grow up like this and so it’s still novel to me. Everywhere we go, we know people. I don’t worry about going out alone with both kids because invariably? Someone will be there to help me.

I don’t think I fully realize my gratitude yet for raising my kids in this little village of support and love. But I know it’s transformational and powerful and the center of my life right now.

Solar Check

After moving here, we decided to get solar panels mounted on our barn roof. My full write-up on the panels is here and I include a solar update in this series. This is the only way for me to remember that: a) I have solar; b) you all would like to be updated on it.

Summer is solar stock-up time and in September, we generated 697 kWh, which is awesome. For reference, in January our panels generated a paltry 70.4 kWh. Since our electric company offers net metering, we’re able to bank our summer sunshine for use in the wintertime, which keeps our electric bill low year-round, even when the sun isn’t shining.

This has been your solar production update. You’re welcome.

Want More Fotos?!

While I only document homestead life once a month here on the blog, I post photos to Instagram (almost every day!) and updates to Facebook with much greater regularity. Join me there if you want more of our frugal woods.

Some folks have asked about this and yes, I do try to post a picture to Instagram every day and–unlike with many other things in my life–I actually have a pretty good track record. If you’re craving more homestead pics, Instagram is your best bet.

If you want to make sure you don’t miss a post here, sign-up for my handy dandy email list in the box below. You’ll get a message from me if you do…

How was your September?

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77 Responses

  1. Victoria says:

    I love this. I love how proud you are of your husband. I love your gratitude. I love that reading this was reassuring during a bleak period in my day, my week, my month. Thank you.

  2. Jim Wang says:

    I always love these updates – the 9 cords of wood is an impressive feat!

  3. Morgan Ernst says:

    Three years of firewood is a massive accomplishment! We heat with wood as well, and my husband is always aiming towards the “oversupply” goal. Does your man have chainsaw chaps? If not, they are the best investment! Mine never used them until that fateful Easter Sunday that involved a trip to the ER and 10 stitches 🙂 Happy homesteading from likeminded folks in Michigan!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      YES to chainsaw chaps! Mr. FW is a safely nut, which I am SO thankful for. He always wears chainsaw chaps, boots, helmet, ear protection, face mask and gloves when chainsawing. Hope your husband is ok after those stitches–eek!

  4. Candy says:

    Mistakes are only stupid if you don’t learn from them. If we had more time I could share the story of how I wore my dress inside out when I cleaned up for date night after dealing with a difficult calving.

  5. Atle says:

    Thank you so much for sharing. My wife and I aspire to have a garden one day (although on a smaller scale), and see we have a lot to learn. But the journey looks incredibly rewarding and, honestly, I’m looking forward to the day when my problems are, “Aaaaah, too many veggies!”

  6. Erika W. says:

    Ohyoubringbackourgardening days so clearly, thank you so much. All your learn by experience could’ve been duplicated by how we did, in central Texas many years ago and later in Delaware. The biggest mistake was wildly growing too much of everything! Where we lived in Huntsville, Tx. Seeds grew and produced and seeded almost as soon as you turned your back. Here in Delaware we made a small gardern, 15′ by 15 ‘ and produced more than enough for 2 people (children grown and gone on ) using rich soil given free by the many mushroom farms. The soil was sterilized and weed free–unbelievable stuff. We almost wanted to roll in it and eat it!

    Now we are 73 and 80 years old and live in a house with a small yard full only of huge shade trees, no more gardening. We did have tomatoes, peppers and egg plants and tomatillos in pots until the foxes and groundhogs discovered them–we live on the outskirts of a small college town and our back yard borders on a golf course and deep woods. Deer saunter by also but have shown no interest in our long rose hedge–our neighbor’s’ dogs keep them away. The golf course is a nature reserve also, so no dangerous spraying.

    I do have a few cooking ideas you may not have come across? Butternut squash and pumpkins make a marvelous quick soup: cook until soft, run through food processor and then add homemade chicken broth onions and some curry paste or powder = wonderful soup.

    Cucumbers sliced and fried in a little olive oil and eaten with cooked rice change their texture in an interesting way.

    Kale and Swiss Chard cooked, food processored and then mixed with cooked pastas and a little butter and grated cheese is marvelous. We ate most of these this way.

    Of course these are the 3 things you have pretty much stopped growing, ah well… We also put bags andbags of all sorts of tomatoes and bell pepper strips into a big deep freeze every year and most went into tomato sauce. Now as oldies we cook 2-3 times more of each meal made and stow the extras in the same freezer.

    I so enjoy your blog, every time reminds me of those younger years of ours in rural Texas, where as college academics we could also be farmers in a way.

    Take care, our very best regards to you, Erika W.

    • Kay Novotny says:

      What a lovely story of your earlier years of gardening, Erika. My husband & I are 70, retired here over two years ago, and live in the Tucson, AZ desert, so we’re struggling to learn how to grow even ornamental plants, much less actual FOOD! But we hope to get into some smaller things like herbs and salad ingredients in containers first. Thanks for contributing–some of your recipes sound yummy.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you so much for the recipe ideas and thank you for sharing a snippet of your life! I always love hearing how other people live!

  7. Katie says:

    Ground cherries are excellent for making jam. Which makes a great gift because not many people have heard of them and they are amazing.

  8. This is a true victory story to me. You try, you succeed some and fail some, you learn, you adjust, you try again. Rinse and repeat over and over and over. As long as you continue to adjust and try again you continue to learn and grow and develop. This is what life should be. Congratulations!

  9. Thom Wilson says:

    ……. community is such a gift, as is a garden! Does it seem that climate change is stretching the Vermont growing season?

  10. Ktaharine says:

    Sounds like a fun gardening year! But I encourage you to try the chard and kale again…. The only way I preserve chard and kale is dehydrating- because like you, the blanching process for freezing wasn’t worth the time. But dried, you just wash the leaves, cut out the stems (which I freeze in bags, and later cut up so they look like diced celery, and throw in soups and quiches to sneak veggies in my kids) and throw the leaves in the dehydrator. They don’t even take long- just a few hours. Then you stuff those suckers in mason jars, close ’em and stack them on the shelves. Then all winter you can throw dried kale or chard in quiches, frittatas, soups, spaghetti sauce, even breads, etc. That said, for a family of four, we plant maybe 4-5 plants of each? I usually go into winter with at least 6-10 jars of greens, and use constantly through the winter til it’s ready to grow again. Thanks, as always, for sharing your Vermont homestead with us!

  11. Annie says:

    You downplay your homesteading credentials, but you are a serious homesteader. That is a great harvest! Here’s an idea for your basil next year: just wash it and stuff it into a Ziploc freezer bag. You don’t have to make pesto ahead. The bags and bags of crunchy frozen basil leaves can be thrown into a blender or food processor or recipe as is. You can turn them into pesto when you feel like it or not at all. Basil doesn’t taste like anything dried but it’s awesome frozen. I literally just rinse and stuff into a bag.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Great idea!!! Wish I’d thought of that before it all died in the frost… next year :)!

      • Lisa O says:

        I wash, dry and put in freezer bags basil, rosemary, parsley, oregano and chives. It gives your soups, stews or dinners a great taste. They are not as pretty as fresh but they taste is there.

  12. I absolutely adore the photo of your garden harvesting assistant. That’s a keeper. –the photo–not just the assistant.

    We planted ground cherries maybe six or seven years ago and they kind of took over so we didn’t plant them again. I still am pulling up volunteers. We ate them while working in the garden or put them in salad. I think you could also make jelly.

    We’re in Zone 5b and just don’t get enough heat during our brief Maine summers to grow big tomatoes so we’re almost exclusively growing sun gold. We love them and they don’t take as long to ripen. I buy slicing tomatoes at the farmer’s market for sandwiches.

    Small town life is oddly wonderful, isn’t it? My husband and I grew up in St. Louis but have lived in a tiny town in a rural part of Maine for the past 20 years. It’s like something out of a book sometimes. Other times, it can make me crazy.

  13. Claire Green says:

    I suggest trying winter squash like Hokkaido, pink banana, Hubbard, butternut. Baker Creek seeds has so many varieties to choose from, I’m sure you could find some varieties that do well in Vermont. They keep well in a root cellar, and so versatile for cooking…soup, roasted, curries, with rice and beans.

  14. Mary says:

    How proud you must be of all that your family has learned and accomplished. Plus the valuable time you have to spend with your children because you had the forethought to save and manage your finances properly. How I wish I would have been this smart when I was your age.

  15. Edit says:

    Here in Colorado, we call ground cherries tomatillos. Makes excellent roasted tomatillos salsa. Not sure how long it keeps, because it does not make it long enough in our house.

  16. Wendy says:

    Great garden diary!
    Curious as to why you haven’t tried standard veg like carrots, potatoes, peas, green beans…?

  17. Robert Cowan says:

    It’s hard for us here on the coast of North Carolina to listen to folks getting ready for snow in October😂 We are just thankful hurricane season is winding down. Your farm looks beautiful.

  18. Sharon Stanley says:

    Oh my goodness your gardening experiences remind me of our first corn harvest. My husbands fave, we planted far too much our first year which all came in the same day. We worked INTO THE NIGHT harvesting, shucking, blanching, cutting off the cob and freezing enough for the county. Such as waste of energy and expense! But we learned as you have. Trial and error. Too much of anything is just too much. So much better to find what does well, plant enough then support our local market for the rest. Live and learn. Don’t over do. Panic will take over and what can be a pleasurable chore, can quickly turn into a depressing sense of dread. You’re doing so well! I love how you embrace it all.

  19. Elizabeth says:

    A great tomato plant for your zone is Early Girl. It’s not an heirloom so is pretty resistant to disease, is indeterminate, which means the fruit will ripen gradually rather than all at once, and the best part is that they produce early. Hence the name. The plant was designed to be used in cooler zones with short growing seasons. Because they aren’t indeterminate, you will need to prune, but these sweet, juicy, baseball-sized tomatoes are worth it. Sungolds are also a great short season yellow cherry-sized tomato. Thank you for sharing your life with us readers. It’s just fabulous!

  20. Erika W. says:

    I don’t believe that ground cherries and tomatilloes are the same species. We have grown tomatilloes for Mexican cookery (my husband was born in El Paso) and I cannot imagine using them for jam–it would be very strange tasting indeed. Nor would I fancy eating them raw, my mouth is shrinking at the thought!

  21. Erin says:

    Ground cherry jam! It’s a delicious way to preserve ground cherries and, while labor intensive, doesn’t take too long.

    The link I’ve used in the past is gone, but I’m sure Google can find something. Good luck!

  22. Shaun says:

    I have always had more luck with winter squash like acorn or butternut than pumpkins.

  23. Jen says:

    Congrats to the hubs on 3 years of firewood!

    Have you considered a greenhouse, or do you plan to? I feel like that’s the natural next phase in your gardening evolution.

  24. Mandy says:

    For preserving your hot peppers, I like to mince them and freeze thin and flat (think gallon freezer bag or parchment lined cookie sheet). Then when I want to add some heat to a soup or stir fry, I can snap off a piece.

  25. J says:

    What a delight to see you grow as gardeners! I simply need to point out, that if almost the entirety of the Canadian population, of which I am part, can grow tomatoes and peppers and other warm weather veggies….you can too, even in zone 4. Adjust the seeds you order to the types we use, and sail away…you are still farther south than us, which means the intensity of your sunshine will always be greater than ours, and your growing season longer.

    You can do it, I promise. Watch Maritime Gardening on youtube and Alberta Urban Garden for specifics 😀

    • J says:

      ETA…I dare you to try and tell all the Italian immigrants in Montreal that their tomatoes, peppers, grapes and fig trees would benefit from being farther south lol!! My Nonna would give you an expressive look and carry right on harvesting!

      You are of course doing fantastic as you are…(I need a a kale and chard harvest like yours), but it’s just so easy in gardening to forget that there are people with far worse growing seasons that you, managing just fine. We get so caught up in what other location would be better/easier/fewer pests/better soil.

      Which is, by the way, why I have embraced Landrace Gardening…seeds that are fully adapted to and thriving in your own location. Look up Joseph Lofthouse for more on that, if you’re interested.

  26. I loved reading your insights over your years of gardening, because I feel like we’re just behind you (this is our 2nd year planting), so we can learn from your mistakes/realizations 🙂

    We did watermelon and cantaloupe last year and tried again this year, but nothing took. Maybe this just wasn’t a good year for them? Our hard frost hit about exactly the same night as yours (we’re in Zone 5A) and unfortunately, we lost almost all of our cherry tomatoes (even though we’d picked them just before) because they molded before we could preserve them. Bummer!

    I dehydrated our abundance of green peppers, which have been great for soups. I haven’t tried dehydrating cherry tomatoes though—what are your plans for those? Do you eat them just like that, or do you rehydrate them in soups or something? I’m curious for what to do when we try again next year!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      I love dehydrated cherry tomatoes! I slice them in half, dehydrate, and then pop in the freezer. If you dehydrate them all the way, they’re shelf stable, but I think they’re too hard fully dehydrated (and my kids can’t chew them). So the partially dehydrated approach works best for us. I then toss them into salads, on top of quinoa, and the kids eat them like candy.

  27. Noel says:

    A note on the cantaloupe because we had our first semi-successful year and learned that cantaloupe are more complex than most things: Cantaloupe need to be planted early and they have male and female flowers. At first they will produce only male flowers and when the temperatures are just right they start putting out a female here and there. You need to have enough plants to get male and female blooming at the same time and enough pollinators that they’re being pollinated quickly while they’re both in bloom (we ended up keeping an eye out for females and then yanking males off the vine and hand-pollinating to get the timing right). Once a cantaloupe starts growing the dry climate is awesome for preventing rot and we ended up with delicious melons! It’s just synchronizing the pollination that’s more difficult on a small scale, but was worth it in my opinion because once growing they required nothing. Next year we will definitely go for 4-6 plants instead of only 2 to get more blooms available at once. Side note: we are in zone 5 in Colorado so assuming our growing seasons are similar(ish).

  28. Joyce says:

    Can you tell me how you prepare your soil to net so much harvest? What fertilizer do you use? Compost, To you buy special soil? I notice you don’t use frames. Would love a post on how you do this. Amazing job.Thank you for all of this inspiration!

  29. Bob says:

    Regarding your kale tonnage. Kale freezes very well – and a tasty recipe to use it straight from the freezer: In a saucepan, bring some vegetable stock to the boil. In volume it would be something like 1/4 liquid to 3/4 kale. Put the lid on the saucepan and turn down to simmer till the kale is soft. It half steams, half boils. In the meantime, gently fry onions or leek till soft and golden. When the kale is done, drain (stock can be used for soup?) and mix well with the onions. Enjoy with pork in any form and potatoes. 🙂

  30. Ani says:

    Awesome firewood! Congrats to Mr FW. To me, having a few years of firewood cut, split and stacked is even better than money in the bank.

    So re: the garden. Good progress and experiments. As a former VT fruit/veggie farmer who grew on a high mountain, I sure do commiserate re; the growing season. Suggestions from me would be to use row cover, with and without hoops, to extend the growing season and to create warmer conditions whenever possible(for peppers, eggplants, melons, etc). Forget about okra. If you were to construct a greenhouse(plastic UV sheeting) and grow crops such as your tomatoes in there, you would radically increase your yields plus extend the growing season on both ends. I grew all of my tomatoes, eggplants and peppers in huge tunnels or else I’d have not had much of a crop and surely nothing to sell at market.

    Also, re; kale. I’ve not tried it but supposedly kale chips are good. I love kale so I’d imagine they would be.

  31. I too have a short season but without the bitter winters here in Washington state. I put in garlic in the fall for a late June harvest and put the rest of the beds to sleep. I have learned to use “short season” plants and when it comes to tomatoes and peppers I buy the plants from a nursery (I don’t have a green house) and I hate paying the grocery store price for salsa and pico de Gallo when its so easy to make. This practically guarantees a good harvest. I also plant mostly “calories dense” crops such as potatoes, squash (only the ones we like) a few pumpkins, tons of storing onions, green beans, beets and carrots. All these things can be canned, frozen, and root cellared. I absolutely hate paying for onions and garlic when they are so easy to grow and store and growing my own potatoes ensures that we aren’t eating a chemical laced vegi. I do grow a few lettuces and each time I pull one I replace it with another lettuce seed or plant to keep them coming on. Peas are great so I do plant sugar snap and chinese pods. Sugar snap for fresh eating and the flat Chinese for stir fries in winter. All your lovely Kale could be turned into Kale chips. Look them up. People who like kale love the chips.

  32. Amazing inspiration for the simple life with kids 🙂 I love watching your family’s evolution into homesteading after living in the city.

  33. Effie says:

    Hi Liz my mom just air dries her chillis in sun and then keeps them in a basket in the kitchen all winter. She lives in a pretty humid climate. Then adds then whole or crushed to stews, soups and curries. They don’t go bad. She is a huge gardener and a big fan of hardy perennials that are edible. Have you thought about getting a polytunnnel to extend your season?

  34. Jana Colgin says:

    I love these posts. I have to disagree on one point… There could never be too many of your pickles! 😉

  35. pauline says:

    what a blessing for your kiddos to be raised in the country and learning about life on the “farm” … I grew up in the country, but not on a farm, but we knew all the neighbors, and our school was the focal point of the community. we went to a tiny church and all the kids in the neighborhood when to VBS every year. I think it’s great to try the different crops too – the girls will be a huge help to you doing the canning and other preserving when they are a little older. Cherish all the years as they go by too fast!!

  36. Mike on a bike says:

    Beautiful, thank you! Curious how you do pest management. I’ve container gardened kale and chard and find that rodents and cabbage moths relentlessly attack kale but leave chard alone. And always slugs! Being in the city though, no deer. I’m surprised pests aren’t a bigger issue!

  37. Rebecca in MD says:

    So smart to have the stockpile of wood. Now Mr. FW will only have one shed to fill each year. Also, if anything happened and he couldn’t stock the woodpile one summer you would still have enough to get through the winter.

    Regarding your jalapeno peppers, you can pickle them also. I do this every year. Just use equal parts of vinegar and water for the brine with some salt. They are perfect to put on salads, in chili, on tacos, etc., etc.

    Regarding the cayenne peppers, you can dry them in your dehydrator and then crush them to use as pepper flakes in any of your cooking. We do this with Thai red chilies.

    You can process your paste tomatoes whole after removing the skin. Then you can grab a jar for soups and recipes all winter long.

    We have the same kinds of experimentation with harvests. This year was a banner year for jalapenos, onions, and garlic. The tomatoes did not do too well, but I did get a few quarts canned.

    Also, in terms of your herbs, you can dry them in your dehydrator if you get a bumper crop next year. I store dried basil, parsley, and thyme in my canning jars after dehydrating them. I tried growing oregano this year, but that was a failure.

  38. Jackie says:

    What pickle recipe do you use? I told my daughter we’d make pickles next year. Why oh why did I promise that?

  39. Eric N. Winn says:

    Any idea of where your neighbors sourced their timber frame from? I am a fan of Shelter Institute: https://www.shelterinstitute.com and was wondering if this was one of their kits or perhaps a custom order?

  40. Kirsty says:

    I understand the chard overload – haven’t grown it in about 5 years for the same reason as you!
    I just freeze chillis whole in zip/snap lock bags – you can either pull them out one at a time and use it as needed or make sauce at some point during the winter. Just rinse them and put them in whole.
    Same with tomatoes – just take the very top off and throw them in a big zip lock bag. Makes it way easier to process them when they rippen at different times and lets you focus on other autumn jobs. Then come winter you can pull them out and do what you like with them – sauce, soup, boil down to tomato paste. The last is my favorite as I freeze them in ice cube trays and then put them back into the freezer in bags. Really easy but also means you can use them for any type of cooking and add other ingredients as you want/need. I learnt that one from making too much pasta sauce one year… I just boil the whole tomatoes down in a pot for a few hours and blend it – skin and all.

  41. Karen says:

    Our okra didn’t do well this year either along with the, melons & pumpkins. Don’t give up on them, try again next year.

  42. Sarah says:

    I love to read about your adventures. Thanks for the advice for those of us who are still just living vicariously.

  43. Ginger Long says:

    I love splitting and stacking wood. We put up at least 6 cord every year. One of my favorite things to do. I always alternated canning enough green beans for two years use one year and the same for tomatoes the alternating year. Seemed to go better for us that way.

  44. Lindsey says:

    From the cold interior part of Alaska, a few suggestions. Leeks do extremely well, are subject to few pests, and can remain in the ground even after the first light frosts. You can freeze and dehydrate; we seldom buy onions since I use leeks for most things. Pumpkin pulp can be used/hidden in chili (in small doses), make great breads and cookies and, if you get another dog, superb dog treats. Honeyberry bushes will produce blueberry like fruit for years and years after planting and are the earliest thing I harvest–mid June even though we often have snow into May. You do need two, for cross pollination. https://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/roasted-rhubarb-and-rye-scones-recipe is a recipe for rhubarb rye scones; I like rhubarb because it comes in early. We cook it down like applesauce and add about 1/3 rhubarb to 2/3 applesauce. This stretches our apples and provides other nutrients and a different flavor. Carrots are another crop that does very well and can wait to be harvested until after a light frost. We shred and freeze (no blanching) for soups, and, I must confess, carrot cake. We also dehydrate for soups and I eat them sort of like candy at that point. Hope to make you into a rhubarb and honeyberry convert!

    • Lindsey says:

      P.S. When we converted much of our garden to three foot tall raised beds, used animal watering troughs that we got for a song, the harvest of heat lovers increased exponentially. The soil in the beds is about 8 degrees warmer than ground level soil, which does not sound like a lot but it really is for tomatoes, peppers, basil, and other heat lovers. Also, virtually no weeding and pests like voles cannot get at the plants. Later the husband designed removable canopies that we put on before the snow melts, to increase the soil warming, and we leave them on until early July. Things grow like we were living in the South.

  45. Allison says:

    I second the response above that Early Girl tomatoes are a good choice for a short season. I also wanted to give a few tips on how I preserve some things. For Okra, I just wash and freeze then place them in the oven with olive oil and seasonings straight from the freezer to roast. My husband likes them and I love how easy it is for me. Hot peppers are just washed and frozen as well. I then take the frozen peppers out a few minutes before I need them and slice for soups, etc. You can even slice the jalapenos in half, scoop the seeds, stuff with cheese, wrap in bacon or proscuitto and bake from frozen.
    Finally, I love to make huge amounts of pesto which I freeze in mini muffin pans then put into a ziploc once frozen. My daughter loves pesto pasta but her favorite is creamy pesto pasta. I came up with my own version after a trip to Europe. Cook and drain 1/2lb pasta (our favorite is cavatappi or penne) then add about 4 mini muffin pesto pucks, 2-3T pasta sauce (or dried tomatoes), garlic powder, nutmeg, salt, pepper (to taste), about 3/4- 1 cup heavy cream, and equal amounts parmesan cheese. I just eyeball all the ingredients and cook until the sauce thickens. It is delicious!!

  46. Karla says:

    Kudos to you for growing all those warm weather crops in a hardiness 4 zone! I live in zone 5 and had a tough year with hard frosts on 6/23 and 9/27. Have you considered adding winter squash (butternut/spaghetti/acorn/delicata/hubbard) to your repertoire? They require no preservation other than a cool basement and last many months. Without pursuing a greenhouse, what are you thoughts on leaning into cool weather crops, like sugar snap peas, beets, carrots, cauliflower, onions, and broccoli?

  47. Georgia says:

    I love this post! Got misty-eyed when I read about the frame raising—there’s something just really heartwarming about old traditions like that. Congrats on your harvest—holy mackerel! I, too, have one (and only one) prize pumpkin, but it’s not quite 100% orange yet. Crossing my fingers that it’ll be ready in time for Halloween…!
    And I hear you on the small town stuff. This week, I forgot my bicycle outside a cafe, unlocked, and two days later when I remembered it, it was still there. There’s nothing quite like living in a place where everyone seems to know your kid by name.

  48. KN says:

    Big thanks on sharing about gardening! We are looking forward to having a small garden someday in the not distant future. These tips are helpful and fun to read about. You have a lovely community!

  49. Mrs. FiredUp says:

    Your post was so enjoyable to read. Since we’re snowbirds and recent FIRE retirees, we’re planning on doing a winter (FL) and summer (MI) gardens this year for the first time. Your garden looks lovely, but after reading your post, no cucumbers for me!!

  50. Katie Camel says:

    I live in the heart of the city and can’t garden much beyond herbs, so I envy your gardening! Anyway, I know you belong to a church and was wondering if you have all that excess rhubarb, would it be worth it to donate it to your church for families in need? Or maybe just for your fellow congregants? Or could you sell it? I don’t know about Vermont, but people in PA sell their excess veggies at roadside stands outside their properties. Everything is on the honor system with a collection box. It seems to work well. Enjoy your gardening abundance!

  51. Mara Palmen says:

    This was one of my favorite posts so far! I especially enjoyed the detailed description of your adventures in gardening over the years. It was very informative, and also entertaining. Thank you for sharing!

  52. frances says:

    two words of advice: basil (for pesto), and leeks! Both are expensive at the store, both preserve well (the leeks you can saute and freeze, the basil you make into pesto and freeze.) I grew up with my parents prioritizing and freezing these crops (in connecticut). for the pesto, the olive oil makes a HUGE difference to the taste (and even color), so find one you like — personally I really like felipo berio extra virgin. Mine is an unmeasured mix of basil leaves, salt, olive oil, (canned cheapo) parmesan, like mama francesa brand, garlic, and either walnuts, pecans, or cashews. I freeze it in deli cup containers and leave no air space under the lid. very high reward for low effort!

  53. Alice says:

    Would it be beneficial to set up a small roadside stand at the end of your drive to sell your overstock? (I know it’s a long way down!) There are a lot of stands nearby my home that rely on the honor system to weigh and pay. I would love to find one selling rhubarb and Swiss chard or kale.

  54. Charlotte K says:

    Eggplant? Zucchini? Green beans? Asparagus? Potatoes? Sweet ones too. Onions,, shallots, garlic? I’m trying to remember all the things my dad grew in his garden which was admittedly in South Carolina!

  55. LongTime Frugal says:

    For paste tomatoes – San Marzano. I planted them for the first time and they taste awesome. As with Romas, easy to toss whole into the freezer. Next year I’ll attempt spaghetti sauce using fingers-crossed, home grown garlic. It is an heirloom so you can save seeds (which is easy – I did it this year). Can you tell I am already planning next year’s garden?

  56. Allison says:

    So! Have you thought about fermenting? Your former beans might have loved the lacto treatment, and I LOVE me my fermented chili pastes, with or without garlic (I get scapes and bulbs at my farmer’s markets, and ferment them both). I do refrigerate them after the ferment has begun to flourish, but then they last and last.

    And, RE: RHUBARB, a different idea is to treat it as a delicious sour vegetable in soups. I love it either as soup base (cooked till soft and plunderable with an immersion blender, which you could then freeze till you needed a bright sour lift amidst winter), or chopped, and cooked till mouth-tender. Like the Filipino Siningang YUMMM (recipe for example, haven’t cooked it directly: https://burntlumpiablog.com/2012/05/pork-and-rhubarb-sinigang.html)

  57. Kiwiozearlyretirememt says:

    I second the encouragement for plastic hoop tunnels. they are pretty easy to make with hooped conduit and I have even used strong fencing wire. Then uv stabilised plastic lasts years. I read an excellent book called gardening in a old climate.had lots of tips which is used to keep plants growing or at least alive through the winter. Even in snowy climates the snow can insulate the plants in their cocoon and keep them going a few more months. I used to garden in a place which got zero sun for 3 months. Discovered could grow rocket, broccoli mizuna, mibuna and it would grow very slowly but stay alive through the winter. In our plastic house we could keep tomatoes on the vines till the middle of winter. The vines had dies but the tomatoes just hung there ripening.

  58. B says:

    I love hearing about your gardening~ I also loved hearing about your beautiful community spirit. Helping with the house frame sounds just amazing. It doesn’t happen much these days. I love it!

  59. Vicki says:

    We live in Idaho which also has a shorter growing season. We learned that melons and pumpkins love to have cool moist feet (roots) and then let the vines trail out over gravel. The heat of the gravel helps with ripening and prevents rot. Landscape fabric might also work. We also had some neighbors who planted their melons inside old tires sitting on the ground where the heat of the tires helped to get them off to an early start.

  60. Carissa says:

    Farmer in Northern Michigan here! We have a climate and growing season very similar to yours. Check out the different Russian heirloom tomatoes, as they were bred for growing in cool northern climates. My favorite is Moskvich, it’s a medium size red slicer, vigorous plants, great flavor, ripens early – often before our cherry tomatoes!! But just in general, looking for varieties of vegetables suited for northern climes will help a lot. We love High Mowing, and buy most of our seeds from them.

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