This Month On The Homestead: A Patch of Grass, A Gallon of Maple Syrup and Some Lambs
Grass! Grass! In March, we found a patch of grass and stomped around on it for five hours straight. It snowed again a few days later and stole away our grass patch, but we were warmed by the memory of our early spring reverie.
Join Me on Zoom on April 28th
Ok this is not related to homestead life, but I’m going to be LIVE at the Bigelow Library in April! Actually over Zoom, so that means anyone, anywhere in the world can attend, which means YOU if you have nothing better to do.
Join me for a conversation about money, life, homesteading and a lot of Q&A. Seriously, please bring your Q’s and I’ll do my best with the A’s:
- Date: Wednesday, April 28, 2021
- Time: 6:30-7:30pm ET
- RSVP here to receive the Zoom Link
- Cost: FREE, but you do have to register at the link above
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.
March was maple month: we had our first runs (of sap) and our first boils (of sap into syrup)! The first step to making maple syrup is sugar maple trees producing sap. And to produce sap, they have to be warm, by which I mean above freezing. Very specifically, the temperature has to dip below freezing at night and above freezing during the day–that’s when the sap flows.
As outlined last month, we use tubing to gather our maple sap and it flows down the hill through these blue tubes into our sap collection tank. From the tank, we pump the sap into a barrel. We then load the barrel onto the tractor and drive it over to the evaporator, where it gets boiled down into syrup.
Mr. FW fired up our Vermont Evaporator Company evaporator, poured sap into the warming pan, loaded it with wood he harvested last summer and began to boil that sap down to sweet, sweet syrup. And when I say boil down, I mean WAY down. It takes roughly 40 gallons of maple sap to make ONE gallon of syrup. You don’t add anything to the sap, you just have to evaporate out the water to concentrate it into syrup.
For whatever reason, this year’s sap has a lower sugar content than normal, which means we have to boil even more sap to make syrup. Plus, the weather’s been fluctuating all over the place, freezing then in the 60s, then snowing, then freezing, which means our sap runs have been irregular. At this point, we are way behind on syrup production and it looks like it’s going to be a pretty bad crop this year. Thankfully, we don’t sell syrup for a living and we have a bunch leftover from last year’s prolific season. I really feel for the folks who do make a living from sugaring–this is going to be a really tough year for them financially.
If you eat, bake or cook with maple syrup, please considering buying real Vermont maple syrup from small farmers who produce it for a living.
Here are a few of my friends and neighbors who sell their syrup online:
- Poor Farm Maple Syrup
- MapleFarmers.com lets you buy syrup directly from a variety of small Vermont family farms through their website
Socially Distant Sugaring Soirees
Many thanks to all the friends and neighbors who came to stand around a small, not-very-warm fire with us in single digit temps to celebrate the first sign of “spring”: boiling sap. Listen its Vermont, this kind of subpar hospitality is expected. Or at least tolerated.
I also have to share how proud I am of Kidwoods, who is really getting the hang of being a homestead kid. She is our official sugaring assistant and could be seen galloping from wood shed to evaporator to house, ferrying crucial supplies including, at one point, the chocolate chip cookie bars I made for the socially distant sugaring soiree.
That kid stacks the wood used to burn in the evaporator, hands wood to Mr. FW for the fire, then dashes off to run laps up and down the driveway.
LAMBS, OMG Lambs
In March, we held lambs. Thanks to our very good friend, thanks to living in Vermont, thanks to the farm goddesses: we met some lambs. Kidwoods could not have been happier. Focused, devoted and thrilled, she scooped and cuddled every lamb she could. My other child? Climbed up my body in an attempt to avoid the possibility of so much as brushing the mere wool of a lamb.
I turned 37 in March and I am content. I am where I want to be, with the people I want to be with. I am not so much of a striver or goal-seeker these days. I’m more of a wanting-to-enjoy-every-day-with-minimal-stress person. And a person who hopes there are desserts and friends and wine every day. Thank you to my husband for creating a lovely birthday dinner for me of delicious homemade foods and (thankfully) store-bought wines. Wine-making: maybe next year on the homestead????
In the Woods with the Toddler Ennui, by: Kidwoods, age 5 and Littlewoods, age 3
Hello and yes, welcome to the Toddler Ennui’s early spring jaunt through melting snow. We coaxed mama to sled down the ice-coated big hill in our backyard and only cried for four minutes when we caught air and the little one flew straight up. Admittedly, given our tenuous grasp on gravity vis-a-vis sledding on ice, we did not envision that particular outcome.
After this, we identified turkey tracks leading into a thicket of woods. Knowing as we do that turkeys are intelligent animals renowned for their trail-making abilities (and not the same birds we’ve seen fly INTO tree trunks… ), we insisted on following them.
We plunged into the wilderness, floating atop the snow crust with our sprite-like steps. Mama, we are sorry that you broke through the ice with every other step and had to crawl out of your knee-deep, boot-shaped holes. Repeatedly. How embarrassing for you and inconvenient for us.
We then followed a frozen creek to the pond where we cried, in unison, when you wouldn’t let us walk across the melting pond ice. Relegated to the bank, we circumnavigated the pond and RAN up an icy slope.
We did notice you, Mama, ensnared in tree branches as you scrabbled your way up. Following several more sledding events resulting in: plowing into a tree, running into a sister and sliding down a (small) ravine, we announced we were exhausted. At this point, mama, you notified us that we had to walk back to the house.
This return trip had not been factored into our energy expended (see previous running up hills) and we whined while flopping into snowbanks for the duration of our trek home. Once indoors, we ran around while wearing the play tent, which we used to knock each other over. Sigh, what a glorious spring day!
In the Mud with the Toddler Ennui, by: Kidwoods, age 5 and Littlewoods, age 3
Toddler Ennui, reporting in on Mud Season. We are featured here demonstrating our ability to saturate our entire selves with watery dirt.
We have clearly never had to do our own laundry or bathe ourselves. Like piglets we relish this soft, sweet mud. There are no apologies to the parents who had to:
- Wash us and then the tub we were in.
- Rinse these mud-caked garments–and boots–underneath the outdoor spigot in 38-degree water prior to washing them.
- Launder these garments. Multiple times.
- We do not understand why everyone doesn’t roll in this ball pit of nature.
Day 358 of a Pandemic
It took until day 358 of lockdown for me to bust out our rainbow-colored play rice and it may take another 358 days before it makes a reappearance. Following this rice-relishing activity, I bathed both children, washed their hair twice, combed it out and Mr. FW still found a grain of green rice in Littlewoods’ hair at bedtime. I now understand why I “scored” this play rice for free… But I gotta say, they had a blast and I now have rice underneath my stove, refrigerator, dishwasher AND cabinets, so if there’s another pandemic, you know where I’ll be looking for food.
Big Helpers, Real Jobs
The Toddler Ennui continue their assistance with many real jobs around the property and both burst with pride when asked to do something big. The other day Littlewoods informed me, “Mama, you’re a helper, but I’m a BIG helper.”
These girls stack wood, fill the woodbox, help clean the bathrooms, load the dishwasher, wipe down the table, sweep (REAL bad at that one), put away their laundry, and more. And never has a cutting board been so clean. Ever. Littlewoods proved that a three-year-old can, and will, spend close to thirty minutes scrubbing both sides of a cutting board. Upside: my cutting board’s never been cleaner. Downside: my floor’s never been wetter.
My hope is that the confidence my kids gain will encourage them to chip in when they’re older and their labor will actually be useful… listen, I have goals, ok?
Hiking: a few thoughts
Kidwoods hiked the “real adult trail” with me in March. I warned her it would be tough and long and that she would sweat. She said, “no problem.” She settled into a routine of running up the hill then climbing atop the nearest log to wait for me and—in her words—catch her breath.
I so want my girls to know the confidence and glory of solo hiking and I hope that someday they will. Right now, I just try to keep them in my sights… the neon snowsuits really help with this.
My mom asked if I get bored hiking the same trails every day and I was shocked because to me, they’re never the same. There are new animal tracks (or, as the kids point out, animal poop), there are freshly fallen trees, there’s mist, there’s wind, there are turkeys derping along, there was a dead vole the other day. Once I smelled a bear. Really, it’s the stuff of legends out here.
New Year’s Resolutions Check-In
This is more for me than for you, buuuuuttttt, as I shared in this post, I made two straightforward New Year’s intentions/resolutions/goals for The Year of Our Covid, 2021:
- I will hike every single day.
- I will spend 1,000 hours outside with my kids.
Here’s how we did in March:
- Hiking: I hiked every day, except for one
- Hours Outside: whoops, just now realizing I didn’t note on my tracker when February ended and March started… better luck next month!
Year to Date (as of March 31, 2021):
- Days hiked: 89, Days missed: 1
- Hours outside: 134
I’m not sharing this to self-flagellate or self-congratulate or say that you too should have these goals or to prove that I’m awesome (we know that already).
I’m sharing it to keep myself accountable and because it’s fun to have goals that are the end result in and of themselves.
I’m not hoping to become a different person or lose weight or look better in my overalls, I just want to hike and be outside as much as possible.
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 March, we generated 585 kWh, which is typical for this time of year. For context, in January 2021 our panels generated 95 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?!
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. If you’d like to receive an email every time I publish a new post here on Frugalwoods, you can sign-up with your email address in the box below. No spam, just emails from me.
How was March for you?
Never Miss A Story
Sign up to get new Frugalwoods stories in your email inbox.