Our pumpkin crop is in! We (by which I mean I) harvested, rinsed, dried, and carried all the pumpkins from the patch to the house in mid-September. Started from seed in our kitchen last March, our pumpkins thrived and were–somehow–not eaten by a varmint.
I now have pumpkins on every windowsill, each table, in all rooms (bathrooms included) and I am NOT SORRY. I love me a good pumpkin and the fact that I can grow my own is a personal victory. Endless supply of natural fall decor just might be my primary reason for homesteading.
Full crop pictured at right —>
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.
The First Day Of School, Pandemic-Style
I never imagined homeschooling my kids, but I also never imagined a pandemic. Thankfully, my good friend is a teacher and created an amazing homeschool pod with her two kids and my two recalcitrant (though secretly excited) children.
We meet twice a week for about three hours at a time, entirely outdoors, and follow a curriculum based on nature and the seasons, with some Waldorf-y stuff thrown in (that’s my technical term).
There are just four kids and two mamas, but it’s wonderful, small, and sweet. Thus far, we’ve been able to watch the weather and choose the warmest/least rainy two days each week for school. We’ll have to see how this evolves as harsh winter sets in.
It’s not how I envisioned this school year, but it’s completely perfect for the global crisis we find ourselves living through.
We’ve had zero childcare since March, which means I’m working far less as Mr. FW and I juggle our schedules every day to trade off watching the girls. I’d planned for this to be my year to ramp my writing up to full-time since Kidwoods was signed up for her final year of preschool and Littlewoods was set to start an all-day daycare program in September.
But the pandemic threw those ideas out the window and so here we are, home more than ever before, me writing less than ever before, but finding peace in the relationship my girls have developed. Turns out, having only your sister to play with for seven months teaches you to enjoy each other, share without being prompted, and also the exact moment at which to pull each other’s hair so that a parent doesn’t see you do it.
I hope your start to the school year–whatever it looked like–went ok too. We’re in weird territory, folks, but we’re still here. And Littlewoods has decided to start wearing actual clothes, so we’re learning new things already.
Since we’re not going anywhere else, we go into our woods. Daily we’re in the forest exploring, outside for hours, tired and mud-splattered by evening. With blackberry thorn scratches on our arms, dirt under our fingernails, and vine-ripened tomatoes in our mouths, we share a commitment to our land. Also, some afternoons we won’t let them inside while Mr. FW cooks and I clean because truly, someone has to do some indoor work sometimes.
Kidwoods has taken to packing her own backpack for our treks and, in early September, stuffed it full of basil, carrots and strawberries, all picked and packed by herself. Anytime Littlewoods announced hunger, Kidwoods would pull another basil leaf out and hand it to her. She’d dutifully chomp each leaf, hoping for a strawberry next.
I trail behind them these days, making sure no one is eaten by a bear/falls into a hole they can’t climb out of. And if one of them stubs a toe, they scream until I come cradle them like “a little baby.”
I relish this back and forth–their independence and their desperate need of me. I was once given a carrot from the self-directed backpack snack situation, so things are looking up for me.
Bidding Summer Farewell
September swept in the first frost and so, we dutiful subpar farmers made blanket forts atop our plants in the hopes of thwarting that initial bite of winter. Last year, I emptied the linen closet into the garden. We positioned comforters over tomato trellises, wrapped sheets around pepper plants, and accidentally trapped a child underneath the cucumber blanket (don’t worry, she was under there eating the cucumbers).
This year? Our motivation waned and only the most delicate–the basil, salad greens, lettuce, herbs, and strawberries–were privy to such warmth. Kidwoods served as our plant-cover-tester, which involved wrapping herself in each blanket before unspooling it onto the vegetables… For truly, summer is in retreat.
Hiking behind my family, Mr. FW pushing a wheelbarrow-of-sticks for the bonfire, carrying someone’s tutu, I am at peace. Because the leaves are turning and the air is crisp… Or because I have a pumpkin beer in my hand (other hand than the tutu).
I’m ready for the garden to die, ready to turn inward; it may be mid-September, but it’s been ten years since March and I’m ready to bust out my ghost candles and mini scarecrows (with orange lights you better believe it).
The Final Harvest
After the first (and second) light frosts, we harvested everything viable from the vegetable gardens.
Double the height of a pumpkin–but no more–Littlewoods raced through the rows with me, plucking unripe tomatoes and peppers, preparing for the upcoming hard frost.
Then I had piles of unripe vegetables strewn about my house, very much in need of stacking and organizing. No worries, toddler patrol to the rescue: they sorted the ripe from the unripe, taking bites of any they were unsure of, and transported a load of tiny pumpkins in a doll stroller. My team is ON IT.
The family that stacks together stays warm together. And a ball gown is (obviously) the correct outfit for homestead chores. As the four of us stacked firewood for winter, from trees Mr. FW felled and split from our land, I realized that this is it. This is what I want in life: working side by side, out in nature, wearing tulle and pearls.
It’s the time of year when we grow reverent for the woodshed we built to sustain our wintry months. Mr. FW is deep in wood harvesting mode, as the temperatures drop into the 40s at night and we round the corner of summer, barreling to fall, which in Vermont is a slip-n-slide to winter.
But this is the season we live for. The garden is a thing of the past, the leaves are considering their options, the pumpkins have moved inside, and I’m willing to bet there’s candy corn for sale somewhere…
After harvesting all the sugar wood we’ll need for making maple syrup this spring, Mr. FW turned his attention to filling out our supply of house wood–meaning the wood we burn in our woodstove to heat our home.
After building the woodshed two years ago, he began his goal of getting three years ahead on wood. Last month he started putting up wood for the winter of 2022-2023. There’s nothing quite so comforting–or Vermont-y–as having several years of wood harvested, split, and stacked, just waiting to keep your future self warm.
I feel like this was a completely made-up thing to distract us from the Pandemic and other impending dooms; nevertheless, I was here for it. I have daughters, they are great, I love them, and they are super mad about this photo (at right) I forced them to pose for. Those are smiles of resentment, in case you’re wondering.
Watermelons? Not So Much
We cannot grow watermelons in Vermont. Repeat after me: I will not try to grow watermelons again and break children’s hearts (yet again).
To much fanfare and anticipation, I cracked open our four diminutive melons, only to find unripe, super unripe, rotten, and pale pink. The kids wolfed down the pale pink (didn’t taste great, but it’s 2020 so you take what you can get).
Then–like the unwilling homeschooler I am–I sliced those worthless watermelons into stamps for the kids to paint and stamp stuff with. As I write this, I’m realizing the paint, brushes, and watermelon carcasses are still outside, probably being eaten by one of the 98 chipmunks living under our back porch. Cool.
Puppets and Pizza
Thanks to a nearby farm kitchen, we got takeout for the first time in six months and thanks to this same farm, we took our kids to an outdoor puppet show during which Kidwoods laughed so loudly that other people laughed at how loud she was laughing… that’s my child.
It started to rain halfway through this puppet extravaganza, but it being Vermont, no one so much as set down their BYO beer.
So happy to be outside together, our kids lounging in our laps, spaced way more than six feet apart, everyone dutifully masked, in a field overlooking the mountains, knowing almost everyone else there and shout out to Frugalwoods reader Hillary who came to say hello with her lovely family, we all exhaled relief that there are still connections and moments to be had together. At least until it snows.
Leaves look so good as they age…. me? Not so much. These are the leaves that frame my church, which I attend by Zoom these days.
As we chart new, weird ways to live online, the leaves progress heedless.
Really I just tried to think of something to write here so I could include this photo of fall leaves.
Leaves, leaves, LEAVES!!!!!!
In The Garden With the Toddler Ennui: by Kidwoods, age 4 and Littlewoods, age 2
We, the toddler ennui, wish to inform you that your garden is in the process of a burglary. My backpack is loaded with cucumbers [I wondered why she brought that thing outside… ], we are aware the pepper with which we gesticulate is unripe, but all thieved produce counts as a success–edibility is not a metric.
Perhaps you will not notice that one of us is slinking out with the entire bowl of harvested tomatoes.
Our plan (this time) is a methodical advance up the hill to the house, as you will surely not follow our trail of dropped vegetables. Also, we are as covert as a marching band with a substantial brass section. We see zero obstacles.
Just stay where you are, mama, and keep harvesting beans (we’ll be back for those later). In the immortal words of our founder, Kidwoods, “nothing bad will happen!!!!!”
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 September, we generated 750 kWh, which is quite good. 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.