This Month On The Homestead: Carrots, Sunflowers, Tomatoes, and Sugar Wood
This month on the homestead, last month on the homestead, any month before that… it’s all running together in a stream of continuous, monochromatic green. Nevertheless, I’m thankful to be here, grateful for this space for my children to roam, not to mention I can go outside and scream into the void anytime I want. For example.
August is abundance month, the final burst of life before we turn inward for a fall that always promises to deliver winter before we’re ready.
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.
Carrots: 10 out of 10, Will Plant Again
My first year as a carrot gardener and it appears I should’ve planted more. A total of seven (7) carrots were consumed in one afternoon by my exuberant harvest helpers, who figured out how to pluck them, rinse them in the hose, and munch them in entirety.
And I have to say: these carrots are good! Sweet, crunchy (although that may just be residual dirt…), and fresh. We might need to build another raised bed next year just for carrots…. and by “we” I most definitely mean Mr. Frugalwoods.
I’ve also discovered the secret to gardening success: have a two-year-old do all your watering. What they lack in precision, they make up for in exuberance.
No matter that the sprinkler extension weighs as much as she does. No matter that the raised beds are taller and the pumpkin plants larger. She will water and water until the earth is saturated. Note: do not deploy a two-year-old waterer on recently transplanted/ill/sickly/small/non-robust plants as they will be DROWNED.
Into The Woods… With Kids
Woods exploration with my babes is a daily highlight and I’m grateful we can be in nature on the regular. Although I wish they’d remember how much they love this nature as we’re trying to get out of the house.
Following the two hour process of cleaning up, eating, getting dressed, eating again, going potty, rubbing oatmeal in one’s hair, cleaning up some more, and changing pants, they are THRILLED to be outside. But don’t try to remind them of that while they’re tossing magnatiles at each other under the guise of picking up. Although hey, it’s a pandemic so we need to be nowhere at non-existent o’clock. If you need me, I’ll be in my mud room overseeing shoe putting-on for the next 72 hours
Our first sunflower harvest did not make it into the house as I envisioned. The flowers were first utilized as a “sun umbrella” for a grasshopper living inside a metal bucket, next as fans, weapons against sisters, and for random flailing (why?!?). “Explains why they look like they went through the washing machine,” remarked Mr. FW upon seeing them employed as a “centerpiece.” Listen, we are gardening with our whole bodies out here
We’re deep in the woods, tangled in briars, hunting for that glimmer of deep purple. My little bears cling to my overalls, step on my boots, and direct me to “move that plant!” so they can pluck ripe berries with their tiny paws.
These days we’re outside for three, four, five, six hours at a time. We, of Vermont, are required to shore up this warm weather. We, of Vermont, are directed to revel in this abundance. Also, someone has dropped their nap and so really, what else are we going to do?!?!?!
In The Garden With the Toddler Ennui: by Kidwoods, age 4 and Littlewoods, age 2
We, the toddler ennui, feel that you might need a recap of the day. Firstly, we do not apologize for the “sandwiches” we made of apple pieces, chickpeas, and pepper, which we fed to eat other and then spit onto your kitchen floor. Secondly, we are not very sorry at all about the tussle we just had over the bowl of harvested tomatoes, which dumped them into the dirt and also a lot of them rolled away.
Thirdly, no worries about the tantrum one of us just had in the woods near the creek. You really should thank us since the volume ensured no wild animal will EVER come near us. We screamed so loud, in fact, that Dada came out of the house to see who’d lost a leg. No legs lost, we were just mad you didn’t catch us a frog.
Fourth, we are kinda sorry about these sunflowers, which we’re in the process of hugging to death. Fifth, we are not at all sorry about painting the play house–bringing paint outside is really on you, adult. Sixth, we hope you’ve prepared a delicious dinner for us of only the foods we like. It was a great day! What are we doing tomorrow?
Sugar Woods Is In!
Age 4.5 is for stacking wood. At least for a few minutes until you’re “exhausted” and need to rest. In Vermont, the season is either winter or winter prep. This is our sugar wood–used to make maple syrup, and let me tell you, Kidwoods is ALL IN on anything remotely pancake-related.
Mr. FW is killing it this year with wood prep. He’s felled, split and stacked so much sugar wood that he filled the entire sugar wood shed and had to relegate a stack of logs to the pallets outside the barn.
We keep the sugar wood separate from the house wood because you use different types of wood for making maple syrup than you do for heating your home. Woe betides ye who mixes up ye’s types of wood!
We make maple syrup every spring by tapping our maple trees and boiling the sap down (for like 8 hours) into syrup. In order to do this, you need wood that burns hot and fast–which is soft wood (aka the wood from pine trees).
In order to heat our home via our woodstove, we need slower, longer burning wood (wood with a higher BTU), which comes from hard wood (aka deciduous) trees.
What I Do Every Day
Play with my kids, work outside, do stuff on my computer. To prove it, here’s me on a Zoom call on my porch, while slicing tomatoes from the garden, doling them in equal measure to the dehydrator and children’s mouths.
Heedless of Pandemic Life, the garden ripens when it wants, the children require parenting when they want, and we chart new ways to manage all three on the regular. Outdoor food prep is my latest innovation. Hard to say if it’s actually more efficient, but it is more fresh air-y.
Tomatoes and a DIY County Fair
The tomatoes came in hot during August. In what I imagine to be a most artistic view of our garden (below), you should know it’s brought to you by the fact that I was pinned to the ground by a toddler insistent on nesting in my lap. I think this’ll be our year of the least amount of food preserved because we spend so much time outside with these tiny ones. I now need to see the garden as an end in itself: the very growth of vegetables needs to be enough. Because without school, without naps, without daycare, there’s very little food processing going on. And what I do process? They eat right away. So I need to reimagine my goal of annual increase. Not happening this year. Best I can hope for is instant joy in the garden itself: they pick it, they eat it, they love it. Beyond that? Not happening. Other than the smallest county fair in history…
“Welcome to the county fair!” announced Kidwoods. After taking all the vegetables I’d harvested and sorting them (in the dirt… ) by color and size, Kidwoods announced that this was the county fair vegetable contest and that everyone would be judged based on the “rainbow patterns” of the vegetables they’d grown. And she’s not too far off.
Every year (pre-pandemic, doncha know) we went to the actual county fair where there is–I am NOT making this up–an entire hall devoted to vegetable, fruit, and flower judgements. There are carrots, peppers, sunflower heads and tomatoes on trays with measurements and notes and ribbons astride. Kidwoods has designs on entering the “under age 10” category and I have to say, she probably would’ve done well this year what with the gigantic basil leaves we have going on.
I didn’t guide, order, or direct this scene. I sat back and watched. In my BRIEF time as a parent, here’s what I’ve learned: they will come to you when they need something. They will ask what comes after the number “34” when they want to know. They will not languish in unknowing, they’ll let you know immediately when a snack is required or they MUST know how to spell “slug.” Until that time? I’ll let them run wild and smash tomatoes into dirt and sing “Deck the Halls” in the middle of August. Who am I to say what’s right?
We have gotten more mileage out of the fire pit Mr. FW made for us than imaginable. Kids + fire + marshmallows and hot dogs + parents with beer = the best of pandemic times.
It would be hard to have more fun than a tiny toddler with a marshmallow on a stick. She ran around with that thing, dropped it in the dirt, rolled over it, waved it in the vicinity of the bonfire, and finally brought it to me to take it off the stick so she could eat it.
As we sit around our bonfire in the evening, roasting hot dogs (no buns because we ate them all last week) and marshmallows (no graham crackers or chocolate because, let’s be honest here, I ate them all… ), my husband and I agreed that this is about as close to perfect as it gets. Then the kids decided to race to the woodshed and the 4-year-old body checked the two-year-old. So you know, plusses and minuses.
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 August, we generated 755 kWh, which is decent. For context, in January 2020 our panels generated 120 kWh and in July 2020 we raked in 816 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 August for you?
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