This Month On The Homestead: Starting Seeds and Picking Flowers

April 2021: The End of Sugaring Season

One jar from each canning session: from earliest to latest

Final maple syrup count: we made 19 quarts this year! Our sugaring season is over, thanks to the weather warming up, the trees starting to bud out and–crucially–the fact that we ran out of the filters we use to sift sediment out of the syrup. We boiled sap much later in the season than in past years as the gradation in syrup color reflects.

We canned five different batches and, in this photo, you can see how light it was early in the season compared with the deep molasses color of the last batch we canned.

This year’s sap had a lower sugar content, which means we had to boil it down more than normal. Typically, you get about one gallon of syrup for every 40 gallons of maple sap, but our ratio was more like 60 to 1 this year.

Made 19 quarts of syrup this season!

I labeled our final batch as “baking syrup” because it has a slight buddy flavor–the flavor syrup gets late in the season when the maple trees start turning their attention to spring and put out buds. It’s totally edible, but it has a slight gamey tang on the end, so I’ll use it to make whole wheat bread and desserts. Did you know you can substitute maple syrup for sugar in just about every recipe? You can!

Making our own maple syrup is a labor of love. It’s time intensive, it’s expensive from an equipment perspective and we have to split a lot of firewood to boil that much sap, but it is glorious and delicious and perfect.

It’s a reason why we live here. This ability to make something from our trees, to sit outside together next to our evaporator, to spoon hot mouthfuls of fresh syrup for our kids to taste–that’s why we do it. Also, the syrup is really, really, really good.

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 reportsContemplating going rural? Here ya go: Want To Move To The Country? 15 Things To Consider.

Happy Easter!

All dressed up for Zoom church on Easter

I’m hoping this Easter was our last pandemic-style holiday. Our last holiday at home without the physical presence of friends or family. Our last holiday celebrated on a computer screen.

For Zoom church on Easter morning, we gathered all the dried flowers we could find to serve as our background. After church, we went out to continue boiling maple sap into syrup while the sun shone down. In radiant 40 degree “heat” we spent the day outside, thankful for each other, grateful for this life, smelling like maple sap, wood smoke and happiness.

This year the girls decorated hard boiled eggs with markers, which I have to say worked really well. It felt a lot easier than mixing up mugs of eye dye and trying to get a three-year-old not to accidentally knock them over. Markers for the win! They had a great time and I later made the results into deviled eggs.

We also did an indoor egg hunt with plastic eggs filed with fruit snacks. And for dinner? Homemade pizza. I’m such a fan of celebrating holidays however you want. I’m the person with no turkey for Thanksgiving, no Easter Bunny, a Santa Claus who shops at yard sales, homemade birthday cakes, as many reusable decorations as I can squeeze into our home, and lots and lots of good food.

Flower Bed Renovation: a Kidwoods, Littlewoods and Mamawoods Project

Mini garden assistant reporting for duty with mini rake

My mini garden assistants are out in force this spring with their wee rakes. I decided to tackle our neglected flower bed, which hasn’t received any attention since we moved here. It’s enormous and full of dead plants, but still manages to produce prolific perennial flowers. We love to pick and gaze at and dry these flowers, but they’ve been growing through hardship for five years. Now, I’m giving them some love. Of course I did look over one afternoon and realize Littlewoods was pulling daffodil bulbs out by the root, so uh, could be a mixed blessing for the flowers…

But my little crew did serious raking and we cleaned out about 60% of the bed. Bad news: the remaining 40% is populated with thorny black raspberry canes, which contracted blackberry orange rust disease last year and have to be removed. My hope is that the rust disease stays confined to this bed and doesn’t infect our gigantic blackberry patch. Coming soon: me in gloves digging out thorny canes by hand. Also me: reclining on the couch since I threw my back out via some aggressive raking…

Vegetable Garden Prep

The seed starting tower (and toddler tower) Mr. FW built

I also started all the seeds for our veggie garden, with extensive “help” from my planting assistants who ensured full dirt coverage and were remarkably efficient in crossing things off my “to plant” list. What they crossed off I will never know, but let me tell you, it is crossed off. Now all baby plants bask in the warmth of our kitchen while we wait for snow to melt and ground to thaw.

Mr. FW built our seed starting tower a few years ago and sized it to fit in our kitchen’s bay window. The lights are plain old LED shop lights hung from adjustable s-hook chains that we raise and lower as the plants grow. We started seeds without this tower our first few years and I have to say, the tower is a game-changer. If you’re going to start more than a few flats of veggies, having vertical storage is AMAZING. Particularly if you happen to have, ahem, dirt-curious family members.

Here’s what I started:

  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Onions
  • Bush beans
  • Snap peas
  • Pumpkins
  • Squash
  • Ground cherries
  • Basil
  • Lettuce
  • Sunflowers

Everything germinated except for the onions. Since not one single onion germinated, I assume I did something drastically wrong. Or maybe I got bum seeds. Either way, it’s too late for me to start more now, so hopefully I can buy/swap some onion starts from a neighbor.

The rest of our garden is either perennial–as is the case with our strawberries, blueberries, currants, apples, chives, flowers and plums–or, it’ll be direct sown, which means planted straight into the ground as seeds.

Flowers!

Early spring flower roll call: hyacinth and daffodil. What we lack in variety, we make up in quantity.

My kitchen window

Why, you might wonder, do I have so very many of each flower plucked from my garden? That would be thanks to my intrepid, indefatigable flower pickers. I’m a sucker for bouquets presented at my back door by mud-splattered children so obviously pleased with themselves.

I find myself unable to resist, despite what this “harvest” is likely doing to the longterm life of my flower bed. But wow do I love fresh flowers and fresh children in my house.

Hiking: Always a Good Idea

Kidwoods started hiking the “real adult trail” with me and she’s pretty good at it. It’s not a short or easy hike, but she is strong and tough!

She hiked three times with me in April and going forward, I’m going to set aside one hike per week for her to join me.

She is so earnest in her desire to emulate me and I’m thrilled to instill a love of nature (and hiking!) in a person who is only five years old. I hope she’ll still hike with me in ten years, in twenty years, and maybe someday with kids of her own.

Pandemic Parenting

Pandemic parenting: the best moments

A cold and rainy afternoon near the wood stove, reading and snuggling. These are the moments I WISH I did more often. This is what I imagine when I describe myself as a mom.

But in reality, this is a tiny excerpt of our day. A day of cleaning all the bathrooms and vacuuming all the rooms and doing all the laundry. A day of me snapping at my children as they tackled each other on my bed while I tried to vacuum underneath it. A day of letting them “style” my hair and doing puzzles together. A day with TV for them and frustration for me and a massive quinoa spill on the kitchen floor.

But this was a good moment. A warm, intentional, snuggly moment, captured by my husband on his way to sort the recycling. Because that’s what life is. A lot of shit surrounded by some kickass moments. Also, please ignore my laundry drying in the background.

Vaccinations!!!!

I am half-vaxxed!!!! Got my first shot of Moderna in mid-April and let me tell you, I have never been so delighted at the prospect of a needle. Pretty sure I embarrassed the very sweet young National Guardsperson who was, honestly, just trying to check me in. I was all, “Oh hello! Yes I DO have an appointment and what a gorgeous day this is [it was snowing. heavily].” And he replied, “uh, ma’am, please just go through the door to your right.” And I thought, yes, I AM a ma’am and I am happy about it because it means I’m old enough to GET MY VACCINE. Mr. FW and I will both be fully vaccinated (+14 days) at the end of May and we are counting it down!!!

Fruit Orchard Status: In The Ground

Mr. FW + Kidwoods planting the new fruit orchard

Our brand new baby trees arrived in mid-April and Mr. FW spent seven hours digging homes for them. Thankfully the snow finished melting the morning the trees arrived so he didn’t have to first shovel snow in order to dig the holes to put the trees in to grow the fruit.

Kidwoods supervised the planting of peach, pear and cider apple trees, which will hopefully bear fruit before she goes to high school. Nothing moves quickly out here—except for a man who has to dig an entire orchard of holes in one day—which suits us just fine. We’re on the slow train to building our perennial, permaculture, permanent, pretty good/good enough homestead.

These trees join our existing orchard of 10 apple trees, 3 plum trees, 28 blueberry bushes, 3 currant bushes and a wild thicket of blackberries

Here’s what we planted:

  • 4 cider apple trees
  • 5 pear trees
  • 2 peach trees
  • 4 elderberry bushes

For the rundown on which varieties we planted, and the cost of each tree, check out this post.

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:

  1. I will hike every single day.
  2. I will spend 1,000 hours outside with my kids.

Littlewoods is all too happy to pick these

Here’s how we did in April:

  • Hiking: I hiked every day, except for one. Kidwoods joined me on 3 of my hikes this month
  • Hours Outside: 88

Year to Date (as of April 30, 2021):

  • Days hiked: 118, Days missed: 2
  • Hours outside: 222

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.

Solar Update

Kidwoods starting seeds

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 April, we generated 574 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.

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35 Responses

  1. Amanda says:

    I love reusing birthday decorations! I went to my friend’s house for a party & told her I loved the decorations. She asked if I wanted them! She packed them all up for me. After my daughter’s party I was taking it down & texted my other friend who had just been at our party & asked if she wanted them for her daughter’s party. They’re packed up so I can get them to her. But I’m keeping my shiny Happy Birthday banner we’ve been taping up for years!

    • Anne says:

      What a great idea! I will have to see if people near me have theme birthday stuff to share. This year I bought 2m of sparkly fabric to use as a table covering for each birthday, and make a fabric pennant. But with young kids you definitely still need themed stuff for decor – and it feels terrible to throw it out after!

  2. Pawpaw says:

    Great post! Onion seed has a short shelf life. You might to complain to the seed company. Perhaps you can buy some onion sets locally. They are cheap and very easy to grow. My son loves to make maple syrup and so I understand your experience well. Sugaring is a great activity in late winter.

  3. Sharon Hope says:

    Hi😄. Just wanted to say that we are trying eyebuydirect.com for the first time—will update you as we go through the process!

  4. James W Day says:

    Always a balst reading a FW newsletter… we are doing it in suburbia with our thornless blackberries, raspberries, and classic Italian garden + serrano’s & zucks & tons of toms… I planted Honeydew berries bushes and I am eyeing a paw paw ( 2 trees) But part of me wants to jump out to the woods and start these fruit trees where we will eventually wind up.. I hate to think I have to restart all our efforts. 🙁 Oh well bloom where you are planted)

  5. JD says:

    We have a lot of feed and seed type stores selling onion sets around here, which is ironic, because in our area, onions planted in the spring don’t have time to bulb before it’s too hot for them, but whatever, I’m thinking you can buy or order onion sets pretty easily –well, at least up to 2020, you could. I can’t be sure, now.

    The maple syrup looks good, and I like it fairly dark. In my area, we have cane syrup (molasses), but the taste is really strong, so it doesn’t always work well in recipes.

    I’m picturing you all frolicking around in no jackets in… 40 degrees. I would be freezing. But, clearly your spring has arrived and it looks gorgeous! I hope the disease doesn’t get to your blackberries — that is a real problem for them. Good luck on the fruit trees as well. I am aiming for perennial/permaculture, too, so I like to follow along on yours.

  6. James W Day says:

    I also have some cool sites to recommend to our community that I have used but I am remiss as I don’t want to appear like I’m selling you guys… what do you think
    Mrs Frugalwoods? one is bee hives & the other is Fruit trees and lost native varieties….
    Lemme know…
    James

  7. Rory says:

    Where the devil is the chicken update??

  8. Dominic says:

    I love grade A dark, robust flavor maple syrup! Congratulations on boiling all that sap, I know it’s worth it.

  9. Pauline says:

    It all looks wonderful, as usual. I admire all your plants and trees! You have some wonderful helpers with that raking! Happy Spring!

  10. Cara says:

    Tried green onion from seed this year, it took few weeks to germinate. I actually gave up on the first sowing after about two weeks, then dumped the rest of my (hand collected, from last year’s green onions sprouted from bulbs left from our groceries/cooking) seeds in the same pots on top, thinking, “What have I got to lose?” And darned if they didn’t sprout. The initial growth was so delicate, I wasn’t sure they’d survive transplanting. But they’re coming along.

  11. Matt says:

    Seeing all your maple syrup makes me think of this wonderful variation on the whiskey sour that I discovered during my COVID-19 lockdown experimentation. It replaces simple syrup with maple syrup and the result is delicious. You should have enough maple syrup to make more than a few glasses!

    2 ounces (4 tablespoons) bourbon whiskey
    1 ounce (2 tablespoons) fresh lemon or lime juice
    3/4 ounce (1 1/2 tablespoons) pure maple syrup
    Garnish: Orange peel and a cocktail cherry
    Ice, for serving

    Add the bourbon whiskey, lemon juice, and syrup to a cocktail shaker. Fill with a handful of ice and shake until very cold.
    Strain the drink into a lowball or Old Fashioned glass. Serve with ice, an orange peel and a cocktail cherry.
    (recipe from: https://www.acouplecooks.com/naturally-sweetened-whiskey-sour/)

  12. Heather says:

    Congrats on being half-vaxxed! I got my second dose last week and it just makes everything seem more hopeful.
    I also am a fan of “do holidays your own way”. Birthday decorations might consist of a hand made poster, there’s no Easter bunny or leprechauns that haunt these parts, and Santa loved second hand items, but the food is always delicious 🙂

  13. Wendy says:

    I love reading your blog and about your wonderful life, homestead and family from here in NZ. Your girls are so adorable! Thank you and God bless, Wendy

  14. Leslie says:

    We live in New Brunswick, Canada my husband loves to make maple syrup just from our 1/2 acre backyard not inexpensive but so satisfying

  15. Carolyn says:

    Congrats on your vaccinations!!!

  16. Jeannie says:

    I’ve been following FW’s since Kidwoods was just a sparkle in your eyes. My pressing question all that time -literally – is how do you keep critters and large animals from feasting on or otherwise destroying your gardens… especially now with your new fruit trees? I gave up trying to grow anything on our little 1 acre spot here in the ‘burb.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      That is such a good question! I don’t really know, but I think it’s a combination of the following:
      1) We have fences around everything. Each individual baby fruit tree has its own wire fence around it. We have a perimeter fence around our veggie garden and our blueberry patch.
      2) There’s a lot of wild food for the animals and so I don’t think our pest pressure is quite as intense since we’re surrounded by acres and acres of woods full of wild berries, etc.
      3) There are a good number of hunters in our town and they help keep the populations from overwhelming us.
      4) Stuff does get eaten. For example, every year some varmint eats EVERY SINGLE PLUM before I can harvest it.
      5) Most of the animals are terrified of humans and so steer clear of the stuff closest to the house–such as my raised beds. Anytime we see an animal in the yard, we make a point of running outside yelling to scare them off

  17. Suzan says:

    I love your life style and the way you are raising your children. Expectations for birthdays, Christmas etc are growing out of control. I even love the the flowers the girls can pick. Our garden is mainly green as a so called professional tree lopper created massive mess in our yard.

    Good on you for being vaccinated. This year is the first time I have been able to access a flu vaccine that is suitable for me. I had that a week ago. Australia is not doing so well on Vaccine rollouts of Covid. Our doctors’ surgery is allocated 10 dosed per doctor every two weeks. Meanwhile the government regulations state I should have the Astra vaccine. I am terrified because I have a blood clotting problem. Anyone under fifty can have the vaccine I would prefer but I am over 50 so in their rules that is that.

    A toddler story from this week. I care. for my precious Mia most Wednesdays. Mia was not well this week. So after lunch we settled for storing time. My mother came to listen. Great granny slept and the little girl did’t. That tickled the little tot to bits.

    Keep enjoying your warmer weather and these precious days.

  18. Jm says:

    I’m feeling so very envious! Work today was endless and painful and I’m regretting every loan, every fancy meal, every stick of furniture, every fancy phone, … Why didn’t I just save every penny and do exactly as you have done!? Sigh. Although some days are pretty fulfilling and it all stretches me out of my comfort zone on the daily. Double sigh. Do you ever miss work? Probably not. Triple sigh.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      I’m sorry you’re feeling this way right now. I will say that it’s never too late to change your mind and refocus your priorities. Just because you didn’t start on the path ten years ago doesn’t mean you can’t start now and plot out a different future. If you do want to get started, I recommend taking the free Uber Frugal Month Challenge–it’ll guide you through all the steps. And to answer your question, I honestly don’t miss work but that’s probably because I DO still work for myself. I love to write and I love managing Frugalwoods, so I’m able to scratch the professional itch by working for myself. I only work part-time because that’s definitely my max for “computer work.” I hope this helps and feel free to apply for a Reader Case Study if you’d like to explore a deeper dive into your finances (by emailing mrs@frugalwoods.com).

  19. Frugal Portland Gal says:

    Speaking of maple syrup, I just made this baked oatmeal that is to die for! The recipe calls for 5 T of maple syrup.
    https://www.skinnytaste.com/baked-oatmeal-recipe-with-pears-bananas-walnuts/
    So excited for your fruit trees!!!!

  20. Caroline Joanna Mary Bowman says:

    I am so, so jealous of your vaccination status. Where I am, the tinpot banana republic of South Africa, our criminal despots who are in government keep making grandiose promises around vaccinating but… as always, fail to deliver (20 million people vaccinated by December! Only 300,000 done since… March… etcetera). Meanwhile, they LOVE imposing irrational, petty lockdowns at a moment’s notice, always to score political points and with only a passing glance at any science… screeching that we ”must all play our part” while determinedly not playing theirs.

    Why yes, I am ranting.

    Anyway, I am also very envious of your maple syrup, that looks amazing!

  21. Carol says:

    You seem to spend lot of time vacuuming and mopping. One of the recent joys in my life had been the addition ofLilly my robot vacuum and mopper! I really hate wasting time cleaning, but love a clean house. Lilly does this while I’m out of the house during the day or downstairs in the evenings when we go to bed. Such a time saving appliance that I say thankyou to every time she does my cleaning!

  22. Rebecca says:

    I’m not sure what sort of onions you’re trying to plant, but if it’s spring onions (hmm, what are they called in America – shallots? Green onions? Scallions?) I just buy them from the grocer, cut the root part off and stick that in the ground. They sprout almost instantly.
    Bugger planting them from seed – takes way too long.

  23. Brendan says:

    The stories you share about the lifestyle you have built for your family are truly inspirational. I sense that a significant part of the Frugalwoods philosophy is putting consumerism to one side, not only to save money, but to save time – quality time to gift your family and friends. My wife and I have just bought a house in Vermont and we will be seeking to embrace your example. PS Your daughters are so cute!!

  24. Marie-Josee says:

    Love to see the girls growing. Littlewoods is sporting such a beautiful, colorful dress as your garden assistant.

  25. Dianna says:

    I am new to your blog and having so much fun reading some of your older posts. Love your writing style! That seedling setup is glorious. I just received some grow lights for my birthday last week and am looking forward to starting seeds indoors finally. I tried to start ground cherries this year (new for me) but they did not take; I could not find those as plant starts anywhere.

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