This Month On The Homestead: In The Garden, Picking Berries, Preserving Beans
July is the month we settle into our summer routine. July is when we think the warmth and abundance will stretch into an infinite calendar. We forget about things like cars stuck in snowdrifts.
July is intoxicating with its allure of an endless supply of cucumbers. So intoxicating that I almost give away our winter coats. This July especially, as we remain isolated and socially distanced, we are on our land, in our dirt, our focus grown quite narrow. And I can’t say I mind.
Welcome to my series documenting life on our 66-acre Vermont homestead, which we moved to in May 2016 from urban Cambridge, MA.
Wondering about the financial aspects of rural life? Check out: City vs. Country: Which Is Cheaper? The Ultimate Cost Of Living Showdown as well as my monthly expense reports.
Contemplating going rural? Here ya go: Want To Move To The Country? 15 Things To Consider.
As any self-respecting warm weather This Month on the Homestead installment starts, I bring you the garden update:
Snap peas: continue to produce! They’ve started to slow down, and some vines have withered, but the kids still have plenty to eat straight from the vine.
Salad greens: still going strong! I harvest a bowl full for our dinner every night and am really getting into the succession planting thing. I’ve been ripping out rows when they go to seed and direct sowing new rows in their place. This is our first year doing this–and our first year with the raised beds–so I have plans for actual organization next year. Perhaps a note in the calendar of when to rip and plant as opposed to this year’s methodology of, “huh, maybe I should rip out the arugula that’s bolting to heaven and plant new seeds… ”
I have mixed greens, arugula, and lettuce contributing to our nightly salads, which seems to be about right quantity-wise. With daily harvesting, I need a lot of rows of greens. I also way over-planted my initial rows (meaning too many seeds in each row, which caused the plants to choke each other out in competition for space). My subsequent plantings have been better spaced and so the production is more abundant. I’m really in love with my greens, in case you couldn’t tell.
I also have an (un-asked-for) assistant in salad-harvesting, Kidwoods, who informed me: “Mama, please go do something else, I know how to harvest salad.” Age 4.5, it appears, is when you become a net positive to homestead activities. Indeed she harvested our dinner salad one leaf at a time (only took 45 minutes) with precise and determined snips.
I pretended to “do something else” while monitoring my plants–reluctant as I am to surrender their livelihood to a preschooler. I see daily that she is capable, responsible, and just fine on her own. Littlewoods, during all this, commandeered the hose and watered the side of our house. So if the basement floods, at least I’ll know why.
Tomatoes: our first few tomatoes came ripe in late, late July and I’m girding myself for the bounty I hope springs forth in August and September. With tomatoes, it’s always a fight against frost–will the tomatoes ripen before the first frost? It’s no guarantee here in zone 4.
Herbs: dill and basil are champs; the rest are doing ok. Our basil is so prolific that I’m putting it on our salads every night. Truly, I cannot think of enough ways to use all this basil. Guess I need to make pesto… anyone have a canning recipe that doesn’t contain dairy? Send it my way, please! I know most folks freeze their pesto, but I’m already out of freezer space this season!
Bush beans: these things are thrilled with life and coming in faster than I can can them (more on that in a moment).
Cucumbers: following the Pickle Apocalypse of 2018 (when I canned 75 quarts of pickles from our cucumber plants), we curtailed our cucumber planting this year to only six plants. Well. It appears that was five plants too many… we are awash in cucumbers. How many cucumbers per day can a plant produce? 95 apparently. 95 is the number. Anyone know of any way to preserve cucumbers other than pickles? I already tried freezing one whole… in case you’re wondering, don’t bother trying to freeze a cucumber. If anyone local wants some cukes, they’re yours!
Berries, Boatloads Of
Currants: I was a currant unbeliever until I saw how they thrive in our current soil. We have three currant bushes, but those things produce like the bushes of a thousand currants. Or so I assume. Since currants taste strange raw (in my opinion), we process them as quickly as possible into jam and cordial. The jam is tart, tangy, and a tad sweet. The cordial–steeped in vodka for months–is also tart, tangy, and delightfully warming. The currants are the only thing that’s already ripened, harvested, and preserved for the year.
Black raspberries: our black raspberry vines managed to gasp out production this year, but they’re beset by blackberry orange rust, which is basically the berry vine death knell. We’ve tried so hard these past four years to rehabilitate these vines… to trellis, tame, and keep healthy, but they seem determined to die. I was telling a friend recently that I’m increasingly in favor of stuff that WANTS to grow here–a la the currants. We may plant a new trellising system of black raspberries in the future, but unfortunately, once orange rust sets in, it’s only a matter of time before it infects new plants too.
Blueberries: two years ago, Mr. FW built our blueberry garden and planted 24 blueberry plants. This is the first year they’re really producing and the girls and I pluck berries daily. Not many of these make it inside for preservation thanks to my efficient in-field consumption team…
So determined are my children to eat EVERY SINGLE berry we grow that they pick to utter exhaustion. I appreciate that they both carry little berry buckets, neither of which ever receive so much as a single ‘plink’ of berry. Kidwoods explained to me that, “it is much easier to just put the berries into your mouth.” Fair enough.
Also from Kidwoods: “Mama, I have picked–and will save–these largest blueberries for Dada. He deserves the best blueberries.” I appreciate the empathy, kindness, and delayed gratification displayed by this blueberry gifting. And I know that the Dada in question appreciated that these blueberries were presented to him by a preschooler busting into his office during a video conference call. I note that I, the Mama, am required to forage my own blueberries and am not party to the “deserves the best blueberries” contingent.
Strawberries: as you might recall, I–the garden grinch myself–planted 100 strawberry plants in two of our raised beds this year. And they’re producing! Exactly zero of these make it inside the house as they’re all consumed in situ by their two youngest, most enthusiastic fans.
We had to have a conversation about not pulling out strawberry plants, resulting in tears, and a denial of strawberry privileges for a few days. But as consolation, I let them eat all the spinach they wanted.
Hiking: Alone And Not Alone
Littlewoods longs to be my hiking companion (Kidwoods, not so much). “Walk a bit, please,” she’ll ask, and I drop whatever’s occupying my hands to take her tiny paw. The other day, I set down a packet of lettuce seeds–ready to be sown–to walk a bit with her. She, like me, will walk this road–better known as our driveway–on an endless loop. Hand in hand we circle around and around and then go around again, please.
I walked this loop two winters ago, with snow spikes on my boots, this one in my belly, in the hopes of bringing on labor. Around and around I’d walk, up and down the same ridges, cresting the same hill, hefting my pregnant self, talking to this baby the entire time. Telling her about the trees and the dirt and my desire for her to be born not during a blizzard. Of all the things I did while pregnant, apparently this hike is what sunk in. That and the love of food. Also music. And dancing. Clearly, she and I love the good life.
In The Garden With the Toddler Ennui: by Kidwoods, age 4 and Littlewoods, age 2
“Hello and welcome to my day in the garden. I started by dressing myself in footie pajamas, my sister’s fairy costume, rain boots, and someone else’s floppy hat. Our first stop is the snap peas, where I ripped a plant out by the roots while attempting to pick a pea pod. Then I harvested not one, but three, unripe tomatoes. I did enjoy the purple bush beans my maid gathered for me as well as the strawberries she tossed into my harvest bowl.
Next, we see me ensconced between the rows of snap peas and bush beans–my feasting spot. Following this munching interlude, we move to the black raspberry patch where I mastered the art of plucking ripe berries from my maid’s pail. That maid really picks a lot of berries! Tsk, she should share more. We conclude our tour with a tromp to a mid-day bath followed by a vegetable-induced nap. Join me again tomorrow when we’ll examine just what IS happening behind the blueberry patch fence.” -Littlewoods
“We stole these cucumbers (pictured at right), also this daisy, and we regret nothing. We see your organic, free-range, microbiome-supportive parenting efforts and we disdain. We are the toddler ennui and we fully intend to crash through your obsessively trellised tomato plants post haste.
We dressed ourselves–in ballet leotard and footed jammies–and are now hot and mad about it. This is clearly your fault and we blame no one else. We are the toddler ennui and we listen to no one. Also, please allow us to lay across your back in the 90 degree direct sunlight while you harvest bush beans. One of us will need to be in your lap at that exact moment too. Don’t worry, we’ll roost on you motionless, except for pulling your hair and picking at your shoelaces. Really, you won’t notice us at all. Also, did you remember our water bottles?” -The Toddler Ennui
Garden View from Mrs. Frugalwoods
On the lam, sustained by cucumber, clutching her sister’s boots. Shoeless and vegetable-filled, this sprite dashes through my garden, her sister in hot pursuit for her missing boot. As I pick bush beans and pluck weeds, I watch these two people form themselves and am in awe that such small individuals can consume entire cucumbers from the vine. If I, for example, slice said cucumber and serve it with a dash of salt, it’ll be ignored. But dirt-covered and immediately post-vine? It is devoured.
If dirt-on-your-person indicated amount of work accomplished, my kids would be the most productive farm hands in recorded history. To their credit, they helped harvest the currants and some of the currants they picked were actually ripe.
When we’re not in the garden, or picking berries, we’re down at the creek, following the tributary to our pond, ducking under branches, balancing on logs, and always, always in pursuit of unsuspecting frogs.
And truly, there’s no better balm for the soul than a swamp child emerging mud-clad from a pond that, let’s be honest, is more mud than water (swap child pictured below). And there is no better laundry solution than washing their clothes nine times accompanied by copious prayers. Should we have worn swimsuits? Oh most definitely. Did we? Absolutely not. Does our house now smell like pond water? You know it.
First Preservation of the Season: Dilly Beans!
My assistant, bedecked with a bean, ably jammed bush beans into jars while I boiled vinegar and water and Littlewoods helmed the dish washing station. We will win no awards with our snapped-in-half beans, but we are putting up food.
As Kidwoods reports, “we have to put up food for winter when there is no food.” Thankfully things are not so dire, but far be it for me to squelch this toddler enthusiasm for kitchen serfdom. Here’s the recipe we used.
The only flower I deign to plant, weed and water: sunflowers will always be worthy in my heart. Everything else that’s not a food is on its own–neglected, relegated, tilled under. But sunflowers I start from seed in my kitchen every February and tend as gingerly as each tomato and blueberry.
It’s either the fact that I met my husband in Kansas or the fact that I went to college in Kansas or the fact that I formed my deepest friendships in Kansas. Basically, it’s Kansas. And I’m just so thankful it’ll grow in Vermont.
Pandemic Parenting: A Periodic Check-in to Ensure We’re All Still Alive (we are)
I’m fully embracing the whole “give them real jobs” approach to parenting. They’re desperate to get their hands on my broom and vacuum and scrub brush and—since I’m outnumbered—I’ve surrendered. Littlewoods on dish detail is remarkably precise and thorough. The only downside is the small tide pool created on the floor. No problem, she mopped that up with my sweater.
Kidwoods cooked dinner one night. Not because of anything I did, or encouraged, or prompted, or taught, but because she was insistent and my defenses were down. She got out her little safety knife (hand-me-down from a friend), commandeered a bunch of vegetables harvested from the garden, and dumped them into a pot along with chicken stock. I turned on the stove for her and suggested the addition of salt and pepper. She threw in raspberries and currants to make what I’m sure was an
awful unusual-tasting “vegetable stew.”
If you think it takes expensive wooden toys and a certain dogma and an ideal curriculum to do this stuff, I’m here to say that it does not. My kid used our plastic ten-year-old cutting board, an old Ikea pasta pot, some random spoon and–when she couldn’t reach the stove to dish her stew out–I set the pot on the kitchen floor. I don’t have the “right” wooden accoutrements or the aesthetic or the knowledge (or the drive, let’s be honest) to do, like, real Montessori or Waldorf or anything. So take heart. If you want your kids to be more independent and to cook and to clean and to self-direct, be lazy like me: step back, observe, hide all the permanent markers, and don’t fear a few broken dishes.
After moving here, we had 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.
In July, we generated 816 kWh, which is decent. For context, in January 2020 our panels generated 120 kWh and in July 2019 we raked in 907 kWh.
Since our electric company offers net metering, we’re able to bank our summer and fall sunshine for use in the winter, 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?!
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 have a pretty good track record.
How was July for you?
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